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Masks again required for everyone at Mass, in schools

Archdiocese updates policy due to spread of omicron variant of COVID-19

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MIAMI | Thanks to the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, masks are once again required — regardless of vaccination status — for all students and staff at archdiocesan schools, as well as everyone attending Mass or other parish events.

The Archdiocese of Miami announced the changes in two separate emails, one sent out by Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg on Jan. 1, 2022 — before the Jan. 3 resumption of classes after the Christmas break — and the other sent by Archbishop Thomas Wenski to all archdiocesan priests on Jan. 4.

“Given the rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID, I ask you to resume requiring the use of facemasks, even for the vaccinated, during the celebration of the liturgy and other parish functions as well as maintain proper social distancing,” the archbishop wrote.

Effective the weekend of Nov. 5 and 6, 2021, the archbishop had relaxed the rules for Mass, allowing those who were vaccinated to forego their use. A similar protocol had been announced for archdiocesan elementary and secondary schools on Nov. 15, 2021, with opt-out options added Nov. 30, 2021, based on parental request/consent.

The Jan. 1 announcement rescinded those opt-out options for the period from Jan. 3 through Jan. 21, 2022. It noted that “conditions within the community will be monitored on a regular basis. This suspension may be extended, modified, or ended based on the circumstances in the community and the policy amended as needed.”

The updated guidance comes after a substantial increase in positive cases per 100,000 persons in the tri-county area since mid-December.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the seven-day positivity rate in Florida had risen to nearly 25% as of Jan. 4, 2022.

The rate for Miami-Dade County was nearly 28%, with cases increasing by 354% from the previous seven days; for Broward, the positivity rate sat at nearly 30%, with cases increasing by 400%; and for Monroe it was nearly 23%, with a 250% increase in cases.

Based on those numbers, the CDC rated the rate of community transmission as “high” and advised that “everyone should wear a mask in public, indoor settings.”

“From my observations, most people have resumed (wearing masks) ever since the highly contagious omicron appeared,” Archbishop Wenski wrote to his priests.

“Even if as some allege that masks are not totally effective, they do help,” he continued. “Since the pandemic began in March 2020, we have said that the measures we have taken only mitigate but not eliminate the risk of infection. The research of the CDC has validated the benefit of masks with the N95 mask being the most effective.”

He suggested that parishes might want to “have available at the door of the church a supply of masks to distribute to those who arrive without one.”

He also stressed that “anyone who is sick should stay home as should those who are fearful of contracting the virus because of an underlying condition.”

As for religious education classes, he said, like Catholic schools, they can “continue in person with proper social distancing and all, teachers and students, wear facemasks.”

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