Pastoral Guidance during the COVID-19 Crisis
It is the priest's role to minister to the sick and the dying, and to not shirk from this responsibility because of fear. Nonetheless, these "extreme" times in which we find ourselves require an approach that is uncharted for us as clergy. The following guidelines should be followed when ministering to the sick and infirm during this global pandemic.
1) Realize that many hospitals have already implemented a "no visitor" policy. This applies to clergy and family members. This is a non-discriminatory infection control measure (they house a very vulnerable population) and our clergy are required to humbly submit to the authorities here.
2) By virtue of visiting a COVID-19 patient (parishioner), you might automatically be placing yourself into "self-isolation" / quarantine, further isolating yourself from your flock for 2 weeks.
3) Remember that your pastoral visits during this crisis period should be over the phone, video chat or even through thoughtful email/texts - engage here liberally! Those visits outside your home should be made during a true crisis / end of life situation.
4) During a true crisis visit: Clothes you wear near an infectious person will be a vector for the transmission of disease. If you make pastoral visits, you should print prayers/services (for disposal after), and wear a minimum of clerical garb that is washable (or capable of being wiped down with a disinfectant). Hence, a pastoral visit in "under cassock" and cross with a printout of prayers might be all that is possible. Shower, and launder your cassock immediately upon return.
5) Be patient with everyone you encounter. Neither clinicians, police nor other authorities like imposing restrictions - they are themselves under tremendous stress. If you have questions about the propriety of a visit, call the hospital or your local authorities (not 911, but the "inside line" at the police station).
6) Be hyper-vigilant, and use common sense. Carry hand sanitizer with you. Use caution when opening doors. Tend to your visits (when absolutely necessary) compassionately and without unwarranted delay.
7) Most of all, love your flock as Christ loves us. Be creative in how you demonstrate this.