Fr. Ramírez Tests Positive for COVID-19; Church Closures Considered - Archived

by Msgr. Robert Siler
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Second Yakima Diocese Priest Tests Positive for COVID-19;
Bishop Joseph Tyson Considers Closing Churches for Two Weeks

The Rev. José de Jesús “Chuy” Ramírez, a senior priest of the Diocese of Yakima in residence at Our Lady of the Desert Parish in Mattawa, Wash., has also tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, said Bishop Joseph J. Tyson. Fr. Ramírez shares a residence with the Rev.  Alejandro “Alex” Trejo, pastor of the parish in Mattawa, who tested positive for the coronavirus a week ago.

Fr. Ramírez, 69, has suffered only mild cold- and flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus. He was ordered by the Grant County Health District a week ago to remain in self-isolation until 72 hours after his symptoms have completely cleared up, which could be as early as Tuesday, March 24. However, Bishop Tyson has asked him to continue to stay home and rest, for fear he could be more susceptible to other illnesses during the continuing cold and flu season.

The Grant County Health District has been reaching out to those who might have come into contact with Fr. Ramírez during the infectious phase of the illness over the past month or so.

Fr. Trejo, 48, was released from Kadlec Medical Center in Richland March 18 after 11 days in intensive care, where he was treated for pneumonia stemming from the coronavirus. He continues to recover slowly at a private residence in Yakima, with skilled nursing care.  He is in good spirits and communicating with his parishioners through social media.

“We are appreciative of the prayers of many, many parishioners for both Fr. Alex and Fr. Chuy, and the excellent work of those caring for them,” Bishop Tyson said. Parishioners have been bringing food to Fr. Ramírez, following recommended social distancing procedures.

The bishop has taken note of warnings received from the medical community, including a March 21 news briefing by Virginia Mason-Memorial Hospital officials in Yakima, that medical resources are being stretched to the limit. He is considering the possibility of closing Catholic churches in the Diocese of Yakima for at least the next two weeks and urging parishioners to stay home and receive spiritual care through online resources. Many parishes have begun to livestream Sunday Masses and other spiritual exercises.

“We all must do our part to heed the social distancing and hygiene measures that health experts tell us are needed at this time in order to manage this health crisis well,” Bishop Tyson said.