Texas church cancels masses after priest, 79, is suspected to have died from COVID-19

A church in Texas has cancelled public masses after a 79-year-old priest passed away from a suspected case of coronavirus.

Father Donnel Kirchner, who worked at the Holy Ghost Parish in Houston, died last week just days after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

The church had resumed masses on May 2 after Texas began loosening its stay-at-home orders. But in a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said the parish has now cancelled its services indefinitely as of May 14 – the day after Kirchner’s death.

The 79-year-old shared a home with seven other members of his religious order. Five have since tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public masses since the beginning of May.

‘If anyone has attended masses in person at Holy Ghost Church since the reopening, we strongly encourage you to monitor your health for any symptoms and be tested for COVID-19, as a precautionary measure,’ Holy Ghost pastor, William Bueche, said in a statement.

Father Donnel Kirchner (above), who worked at the Holy Ghost Parish in Houston, died last week just days after being diagnosed with pneumonia

Father Donnel Kirchner (above), who worked at the Holy Ghost Parish in Houston, died last week just days after being diagnosed with pneumonia

Father Donnel Kirchner (above), who worked at the Holy Ghost Parish in Houston, died last week just days after being diagnosed with pneumonia

The 79-year-old shared a home with seven other members of his religious order. Five have since tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public masses since the beginning of May (Pictured: Holy Ghost Parish, Houston, TX)

The 79-year-old shared a home with seven other members of his religious order. Five have since tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public masses since the beginning of May (Pictured: Holy Ghost Parish, Houston, TX)

 The 79-year-old shared a home with seven other members of his religious order. Five have since tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who had been active in public masses since the beginning of May (Pictured: Holy Ghost Parish, Houston, TX)

In an update on its website, the church said it was possible that Kirchner had contracted coronavirus prior to his death and that ‘one or more of the community might have been exposed’.

The cause of death is unknown, but Kirchner was diagnosed with pneumonia before passing away at home on May 13.

‘It’s not clear if he was tested for COVID-19,’ the Archdiocese said.

Meanwhile, the members who have since tested positive are all asymptomatic and are now in quarantine in the parish’s residence, isolated away from the rest of the community, officials said.

Brought into effect from April 2 to April 30, Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home orders excluded churches, congregations and houses of worship.

The Archdiocese had suspended all weekday and Sunday masses from March 18 onwards, though it churches were allowed to remain open for private prayer at their own discretion.

The church had resumed masses on May 2 after Texas began loosening its stay-at-home orders. But in a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said the parish has now cancelled its services indefinitely as of May 14 ¿ the day after Kirchner¿s death

The church had resumed masses on May 2 after Texas began loosening its stay-at-home orders. But in a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said the parish has now cancelled its services indefinitely as of May 14 ¿ the day after Kirchner¿s death

The church had resumed masses on May 2 after Texas began loosening its stay-at-home orders. But in a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said the parish has now cancelled its services indefinitely as of May 14 – the day after Kirchner’s death

After the orders expired, parishes were permitted to resume mass on May 2 so long as they followed state social distancing guidelines, which included having all congregants wear masks and sit six-feet apart in alternate rows.

The Archdiocese says in-person attendance at the 900-capacity church had been ‘closely controlled’, with Sunday masses never exceeding 179 people.

‘Although the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines prescribed by State health officials since reopening on May 2nd, they determined at that time it was best to close the Church immediately to public Masses until the results of their tests were known,’ a statement from the parish read.

Harris County, where the Holy Ghost Parish is situated, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Texas, with 8,176 confirmed cases and 179 recorded deaths.

Cases and fatalities of COVID-19 have been steadily rising across the state since reopening began. As of Tuesday, Texas has 47,784 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 909 on the day before. Deaths, meanwhile increased by 11 to 1,347 state-wide. 

The Archdiocese says in-person attendance at the 900-capacity church had been ¿closely controlled¿, with Sunday masses never exceeding 179 people. For now, the church will remain closed

The Archdiocese says in-person attendance at the 900-capacity church had been ¿closely controlled¿, with Sunday masses never exceeding 179 people. For now, the church will remain closed

The Archdiocese says in-person attendance at the 900-capacity church had been ‘closely controlled’, with Sunday masses never exceeding 179 people. For now, the church will remain closed

Phased reopening has continued this week, with personal service businesses, childcare services and offices now permitted to open. Bars and recreational facilities will be permitted to reopen Friday with a capacity cap of 25 percent. Restaurants, meanwhile, will be allowed to increase their dine-in capacity to 50 percent.

Elsewhere in the county, COVID-19 cases have documented at other places of worship as states being reopening efforts.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a church was forced to suspend in-person services last week after one attendee later tested positive for coronavirus. The health department is now investigating three cases ties to the church, officials announced.

Churches across the state were permitted to open by Gov. Bill Lee on May 1, so long as capacity was limited and face masks were recommended, though not mandatory.

Also, in California, more than 180 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 following a religious service in Butte County on May 10 that was held in violation of the state’s stay-at-home orders. One worshipper tested positive for the virus the next day.

While California has started reopening select counties, including Butte, public gatherings of any kind are still forbidden.

Link hienalouca.com

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