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Welcome to flu season Mass: No wine, no physical contact, bishop says

The distribution of "precious blood" is suspended.

No physical contact should be made in church during the exchange of the sign of peace.

Holy water fonts should be drained, cleaned with disinfecting soap and refilled with holy water on a regular basis.

And ministers of Holy Communion should take care not to touch the tongues or hands of the faithful.

Welcome to Mass in the midst of flu season.

Earlier this week, Bishop Richard J. Malone issued directives to all 163 parishes and about 50 schools in the Diocese of Buffalo about how to combat the flu. It's the first time in about five years that the Rev. Malone has issued such a directive because of a flu outbreak, said Diocese spokesman George Richert.

"Some parishes have taken measures like this on their own accord since then, but it’s the first time in about 5 years that directives like this were put out by the Bishop," Richert added.

Over the past week in New York State, 7,779 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases were reported to the state and 1,759 New Yorkers have been hospitalized with confirmed influenza, the highest weekly numbers in both categories since reporting began in 2004 and surpassing last week's previous high of 1,606 hospitalizations, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

To combat the flu outbreak, Cuomo issued an executive order Thursday allowing pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to children aged 2 to 18.

"This year’s influenza virus is the most widespread outbreak since public health authorities began keeping track more than a dozen years ago, according to the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases," Malone wrote. "I urge the clergy and faithful to observe necessary standard precautions to protect the health of others during this flu season. The best way to prevent the spread of contagious diseases is to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water."

At schools, he asked staff to keep an eye out for students and staff showing symptoms.

He also urged anyone who is sick to stay home from school and church.

"Parishioners should be reminded that if they are ill or suspect they are ill with a contagious illness, they are not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation. They should remain at home and return to church when they are well," Malone said.

Flu has arrived earlier, and its symptoms are severe

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