Bishop Michael Warfel announced on Monday afternoon that all public Masses in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings will be suspended until Monday, March 30.
The order was made due to public health concerns over the continuing spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
He said this includes the extension of a general dispensation for all the faithful from the obligation to participate at Mass on Sunday.
Warfel said that he had a conference call on Monday with a majority of the priests serving in this diocese in order to receive their input and advice. He asked for the meeting based on the recent announcement by Governor Steve Bullock regarding the State’s recommendations and the recommendations of the CDC. The meeting was followed by a meeting with members of the Priests’ Council in order to "delve more deeply into the issue" and discuss an appropriate response. Warfel also consulted with Chancery Staff and received input from the Vicar General of the Diocese. He also discussed the issue with Bishop Vetter of the Diocese of Helena, knowing that whatever determination I made needed to be similar to actions the Diocese of Helena would be making.
Warfel said in a news release: "My staff will continue to monitor the extent of the spread of Covid-19 (more hopefully its eradication) as the March 30 date approaches in order to make an updated determination regarding our response. I am fully aware how difficult this decision will be for people of faith. There is nothing more central to Catholics than the Eucharist. Priests will continue to offer “private” Masses for the intentions of the faithful and be available for confessions during this time."
Warfel continued: "Priests are encouraged to solicit assistance from the laity to live-stream Masses in the absence of the faithful but celebrated in the parish, using social media. This can be done with a smartphone with access to the internet. If not, the Mass could be recorded (again on a smartphone) and then later uploaded to the parish website or posted for viewing online. Parishioners, of course, could be encouraged to watch Mass on the internet or television. The faithful are also encouraged to celebrate Sunday as a domestic church by taking time to pray together as a household. In addition to making a Spiritual Communion, praying a rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and particularly our recommended Prayer to Mary, Health of the Sick. Churches should remain open during this time and be available for parishioners to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, ideally exposed. Social spacing must be a consideration."
As of Monday, March 16, DPHHS has tested a total of 204 people for COVID-19; six of those results have been positive. The state currently has the capacity to test approximately 850 more people, and anticipates receiving more tests from the CDC as needed. Click here to visit the DPHHS website. DPPHS says that COVID-19 testing is available 7 days a week; for information about testing, call 1-800-821-7284. Here is the information that has been publicly released about the six patients:
- Missoula County: woman in her 30s
- Missoula County: man in his 50s
- Gallatin County: man in his 40s; recovering at home; acquired through international travel
- Yellowstone County: woman in her 50s; recovering at home; rcquired through international travel
- Silver Bow County: man in his 50s; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
- Broadwater County: a man in his 50s who sought care in Lewis and Clark County; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
In addition to the six confirmed cases actually IN Montana, there is a seventh Montanan confirmed to have COVID-19. That person, from Lake County, is a part time Montana resident with no documented exposures or close contacts in Montana, and was not tested in Montana. She was tested and diagnosed in Maryland, where she currently is residing.
The CDC has three levels to classify a potential case of COVID-19:
- Person Under Investigation (PUI): Any person who is under investigation for having the virus that causes COVID-19, or who was under investigation but tested negative for the virus.
- Presumptive Positive case of COVID-19: Anyone who has tested positive for the virus, but testing was conducted at the local or state level. Currently, presumptive positive cases must have samples undergo confirmatory testing at the CDC.
- Laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19: Anyone who has tested positive for the virus at the CDC laboratory.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, you can take the following steps to protect yourself and your family.
- To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, you can take the following steps to protect yourself and your family.
- Stay home if you’re sick,
- Cover your cough and sneezes with the crook of your elbow or a tissue
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands frequently
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
- Call ahead to a healthcare professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread. Tell your healthcare professional about your recent travel or contact.
- According to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as of March 14, there are 1,629 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the nation. There have been 41 deaths, most of them in Washington. Click here for the latest information about COVID-19 at the CDC website .