By Matt Hadro
As public Masses remain suspended in New York City, per public health orders, the city health department has issued advice to residents on how to have “safe sex” with strangers during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the city remains in the first phase of the state’s reopening plan, Catholic churches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, are open only for private prayer and the sacrament of confession. In the first stage of New York State reopening regulations, religious gatherings are limited to 10 people who must wear masks and observe strict social distancing.
But while public gatherings in churches are considered a health risk, the city simultaneously is advising residents on how to have “safe sex”—even in a crowd.
Guidance from the New York City health department, issued June 8, states that “during this extended public health emergency, people will and should have sex,” and offers a range of advice on limiting transmission of coronavirus while engaging in “hook ups” and group encounters.
While the guidance advises that the safest sexual partners are “someone you live with,” and people should interact with “only a small circle of people,” the guidance offers precautions for those who “decide to find a crowd,” including that they pick “larger, more open, and well-ventilated spaces” for their encounters.
The city’s health department also recommends for and against specific sexual acts, in light of their probability of passing the virus, and suggests that people “be creative” and use “physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact” as a health precaution.
City authorities have come under scrutiny for applying different priorities and standards to the regulation of people gathering following the outbreak of COVID-19.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that ongoing protests in the merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not.
“When you see a nation, an entire nation simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” he said at a June 2 press conference.
The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese
Archdiocesan director of public policy Ed Mechmann wrote in response that the protests are important, as are public Masses.
“We have once again been given proof that religious liberty is a second-class right,” he wrote June 3.
“It is clear that in the eyes of our government officials, the politically preferred viewpoint of anti-racism is favoured and allowed, while the unpopular one of religious worship is belittled and denigrated,” Mechmann added.
In late March, De Blasio called out houses of worship that were defying public stay-at-home orders, saying he would shut them down permanently if they persisted in trying to hold clandestine services.
He also said that the gathering of thousands to mourn at the funeral of a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn was “absolutely unacceptable,” and threatened other religious gatherings with mass arrests.
Most of the state of New York has moved to the second phase of reopening during the new coronavirus pandemic, with churches allowed to host religious gatherings but at 25% capacity with social distancing.
This territory includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess counties, and churches in the Archdiocese of New York within these counties have begun offering public Masses this week, a spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed with CNA on Wednesday.
These parishes are also able to offer funerals, weddings, and baptisms, the spokesman said, with parishes in the city boroughs remaining closed until the city enters the next phase of reopening.