No shaking hands during graduation. No sharing consecrated wine during Catholic services and, Maine’s bishop urges, no receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

As the swine flu continues to spread, life in Maine is changing.

“We want to get out in front of this as much as possible,” said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for Maine’s Catholic diocese.

The swine flu can spread like regular flu – through coughing and sneezing and when a person touches something with the virus on it and then touches their nose or mouth.

Because the virus can so easily spread through person-to-person contact, Maine’s Roman Catholic Church on Thursday announced sweeping changes in the way it conducts services. Greeters and ushers will no longer shake hands in greeting, and parishioners will no longer shake hands during Mass. Consecrated wine – traditionally shared – will not be available until further notice. Parishioners will also be strongly urged to receive Holy Communion by hand rather than on the tongue.

For parishioners who need to receive Holy Communion by tongue, ministers have been told to go to them at the end of Communion and to wash their hands immediately afterward. Ministers have also been told to wash their hands before Mass and to use hand sanitizer before and after distributing Holy Communion.

Bishop Richard Malone has asked parishioners who feel ill to stay home and not attend church until fully recovered.

The new rules will be announced at pulpits throughout the state Sunday and through church handouts.

As the diocese prepared its response to the flu Thursday, Central Maine Community College made an announcement of its own: The college president and other dignitaries will not shake hands with graduates when they receive diplomas at the school’s 45th annual commencement ceremony on May 7.

CMCC President Scott Knapp called the new policy a “real departure” from tradition, but said he didn’t see any way around it.

“We really think that’s tempting fate (to shake hands). If one person early in the line has the flu, I will give it to everybody else,” Knapp said. “There are usually two or three other people on the stage shaking hands, so we’re going to wave, we’re going to salute, we’re going to bow. But we’re not going to shake hands.”

CMMC so far appears to be the only college in Maine to stop the traditional handshake. The Community College System heard from several campuses Thursday and none had planned a handshake ban. No bans had been announced for any of the campuses in the University of Maine System, nor for privates colleges Andover and Bates in Lewiston, Bowdoin in Brunswick or Colby in Waterville.

All hold graduation days or weeks after CMCC. All said they would continue to stay in contact with state health officials, to reassess their situations and, if they feel the need, to follow CMCC’s lead.

“Obviously, given the nature of the outbreak, it’s very possible,” said Bob Caswell, spokesman for the University of Southern Maine.

College leaders said they either had plans or were working on plans to deal with an outbreak in their area. Bates on Thursday said students would have to leave campus within 24 hours if the college had to close because of the flu. College officials have asked students and their families to start planning for that possibility.

As colleges and churches debated what to do if the flu spreads, the state warned Mainers that scam artists are using the virus to make money. The Office of the Attorney General said an e-mail was circulating with the phrase “Swine Flu” in the subject line and advertisements for an alleged flu medicine in the body of the e-mail. The AG’s Office said people could be tricked into buying counterfeit or ineffective medicine or could find their credit card information stolen if they follow the links provided by the e-mail.

The AG’s office is urging people not to open attachments or click on links in the e-mail.

For more information on the swine flu, visit: www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/index.shtml


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