Church makes changes to keep people healthy during flu season

PALM DESERT, Calif. - You've heard it a million times - wash your hands to avoid getting sick. However, Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert is taking a hands-off approach to keep people healthy.

"In the Catholic Church, we pass consecrated wine in cups. We have lots of cups, thousands of people, and during flu season we no longer have the cup," Father Howard Lincoln said. 

And the precautions don't stop there. 

"During the exchange of peace and when we say the Lord's prayer, we suggest you kind of nod and make eye contact and say, 'Bless you' as opposed to shaking hands," Father Lincoln said. 

"It's common sense to do that, the virus is spread through droplets and touching," Dr. Russell Grant said.  

Catholic Tom Herndon and his wife welcomed the news at church last Sunday.   

"I think it's a good idea because my wife can't take a flu shot. If you don't shake hands and do that sort of thing, hopefully you're less apt to get the flu," Herndon said. 

Normally, when it's not flu season, the minister uses a cloth to wipe the chalice, turn it, then hands it to the next person getting communion. 

"During the flu season, we have about 10,000 people that attend mass every weekend, taking this communal cup," said Father Lincoln.

But that's not the case now, they have done away with the communal cup for the time being, and for good reason.  Some other local churches have started handing out tiny disposable paper cups during flu season for communal wine.

Last January, Riverside County Department of Health reported two cases of severe influenza, meaning the cases required hospitalization --  and one flu-related death.  So far this year, the county reported 44 severe cases of influenza and seven flu-related deaths. 

"We still don't know whether flu season has peaked yet or not. We still may see more cases in the next month or so," Dr. Grant said. 

The good news - Dr. Grant said it's not too late to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Herndon and his wife have their own tricks.  

"Sometimes we try to sit in the back row where there is no one behind us coughing," he said. 

Eisenhower urgent care still offers flu shots. For more information, go to emc.org.  


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