An associate pastor at Omaha’s St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church has tested positive for COVID-19, causing the church to cancel Mass and close the parish office for the next two weeks.
In a letter on the church’s website, the Rev. Ralph O’Donnell said the Rev. Toby Letak, an associate pastor at the church, tested positive for the virus. The Douglas County Health Department recommended that anyone who spent 10 minutes or more within 6 feet of Letak should self-quarantine for 14 days, even if they were wearing a mask.
“Whereas this is difficult and unfortunate news, I can tell you Father Toby is not symptomatic at this time and has not had a fever,” O’Donnell wrote. “He arranged for testing this week only after experiencing a brief bout of nausea. Father Toby plans to quarantine at the rectory and appreciates your prayers.”
Letak learned he tested positive on Friday, said Deacon Tim McNeil, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Omaha. McNeil said Letak doesn’t know how or where he was exposed to the virus.
“He was really good at wearing a mask,” McNeil said.
O’Donnell said he and others who work in the parish office do not have any COVID-19 symptoms. But out of caution, anyone who has worked closely with Letak will quarantine for the next two weeks and get tested.
The church is located near 60th and Dodge Streets.
The church will stay open on a daily basis from noon to 3 p.m., but public Mass and Mass recordings will be canceled for the next two weeks.
McNeil said he thinks Letak is the first priest in the archdiocese to test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Starting last month, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts allowed churches and other places of worship to begin holding in-person services again, with some restrictions. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, attendees have to space out in the pews, and objects such as collection plates and prayer books aren’t supposed to be passed around.
McNeil said a number of new protocols have been put in place at archdiocesan churches. Lines for communion are single file, there is no communal chalice of wine, every other pew is kept empty and people are discouraged from chatting and lingering after Mass.
Most churches in the archdiocese are continuing with a combination of livestreamed Masses and in-person services. Attendance at services inside churches has been modest, McNeil said — most are still choosing to watch from home.