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Select Group Of Priests And Chaplains Still Visiting COVID-19 Patients At Hospitals, Homes

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Priests and chaplains are bravely risking their own health to pray alongside COVID-19 patients, sometimes to administer last rites. The Archdiocese of Chicago formed a small group willing to do those bedside prayers.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas learned the archdiocese is also taking steps to protect the priests.

St. Columbanus Church is live-streaming Sunday mass from the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, and posting words of encouragement to YouTube from Fr. Matt O'Donnell, all in the name of social distancing.

"The biggest change has been trying to find a way to stay connected to people," O'Donnell said.

But for the pastor, some things need to be face-to-face.

"So far, I've been able to visit one patient who is confirmed to have COVID-19," he said.

O'Donnell is one of about 24 priests or chaplains in the Archdiocese of Chicago who have volunteered to visit hospital rooms and homes to pray alongside coronavirus patients.

The pastor said he got his first call just one day after he first volunteered. A COVID-19 patient's family wanted him at the hospital as soon as possible. He administered the anointing of the sick, a sacrament often given to people who are ill or near death.

"The encouragement that was offered to me was to pray as quickly as I was able to in that moment," he said.

The hospital gave him personal protective gear to wear for the bedside prayer.

The South Side pastor said he wore gloves as he did the sign of the cross with blessed oil on the patient's forehead and hands.

"Being able to pray with people in their last days or hours or moments, or even just to be there to give a presence of hope for a family, is really important to me," he said.

Now a South Side company is supplying the archdiocese with two dozen face shields for priests and chaplains visiting COVID-19 patients.

Bridgewater Studio is a design company that's reprogrammed their machines to cut the plastic shields during the outbreak.

The archdiocese says priests and chaplains will use the shields when they visit coronavirus patients at their homes.

"The people that we'll visit who are sick who need that prayer, that blessing, that encouragement on the road to recovery. And it will also be the individuals who are in danger of death who need to have the last rites celebrated," O'Donnell said.

It's one of the few times he'll break from social distancing, and he said he's ready to go to another hospital room whenever he's needed.

O'Donnell said one reason he volunteered to visit COVID-19 patients is that he is young and healthy, and wants to make a difference.

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