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National Guard troops set up food donations in New Rochelle, N.Y., March 12, 2020. (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters) 

RYE, N.Y. (CNS) -- The arrival of the National Guard was a palpable sign that life has changed at Holy Family in New Rochelle, New York. The church is one block outside a state-mandated "containment area" established to fight the spread of COVID-19.

"The National Guard came to the door of the rectory with hand sanitizer and information sheets," according to Father Robert Verrigni, parochial vicar at Holy Family.

Holy Family pastor Msgr. Dennis P. Keane told parishioners in a March 12 letter that while the church building is not included in the containment zone, "a large portion of our parish is within this area."

The containment area is a one-mile circle centered on a synagogue where the local coronavirus outbreak is clustered. New Rochelle has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the country. Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed schools in the zone to close and forbade large gatherings of people. A quarantine is not in effect and people may travel freely.

The National Guard was deployed to clean public spaces and distribute food to families that rely on school breakfasts and lunches.

Father Verrigni said the practical effect of the containment area mandate is "it's like a ghost town and there's no one on the sidewalks or in the street."

He said attendance at weekend Masses March 7-8 was down 60% and attendance at the midday daily Mass is down. "People are afraid to come out," he said. He noted there has been little effect on participation at the 6:50 am daily Mass.

Msgr. Keane wrote that Sunday and daily Masses will be celebrated as usual, with the exception of an evening Mass generally organized by students at nearby Iona College. The college is run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. It moved classes online because of the virus and celebration of Mass has been suspended indefinitely.

Msgr. Keane also dispensed any parishioners who "are concerned, elderly or sick" from the Sunday obligation until the coronavirus is contained.

Holy Family is taking all recommended precautions. In addition, Father Verrigni said parish staff are cleaning the pews with bleach wipes and have installed hand sanitizer at the entrances to the church, with signs reminding worshippers to use it.

The hand sanitizer is known as NYS Clean. It was produced by Corcraft, a division of the state prison system that uses inmate labor to manufacture products to sell primarily to state and governmental agencies. NYS Clean is being distributed to public entities free of charge.

Father Verrigni said the weekend Masses March 14-15 will be "quiet Masses" akin to weekday Masses, with "no music and very little preaching."

The parish elementary school closed March 13 and will remain closed at least through March 20. Religious education, sports programs and other activities have been canceled, but Friday evening Stations of the Cross will be held.

Beginning March 16, the parish office will be closed to visitors and all interactions will take place by phone.

Sacramental celebrations have not been postponed because by Lenten tradition, the parish has not had any baptisms or weddings during this period. Father Verrigni said the out-of-state family of a deceased parishioner decided to forgo a funeral Mass at the church and hold a memorial Mass at a later date.

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