The St. Joseph County Health Department sent letters to three dozen faith leaders this week asking them to conduct virtual services through March 2021 due to COVID-19.
The request comes after the health department conducted an analysis that revealed five clusters of coronavirus associated with religious activity in the county in the last six weeks.
Rabbi Michael Freidland of Sinai Synagogue in South Bend said his congregation has been virtual since April, and he has "no intention of opening the doors" to in-person services until the pandemic wanes.
“A religious principle tells us, saving a life is the most important value," Freidland said. "And if we can do that by doing virtual services, which is not what we’d prefer, well, we have to do it that way.”
Jennifer Simerman, communications secretary for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said in an email that it’s up to individual parishes to decide whether to offer in-person services.
She said virtual options aren’t mandated, but the Diocese requires all parishes to strictly follow state and local directives.
"Since we are unaware of any outbreak coming from attendance at Catholic Mass in Saint Joseph County, we are confident that the precautionary measures which we have put in place have been effective in preventing spread in our Catholic parishes," Simmerman said in an email.
She added that the Diocese is grateful to the health department and will keep its recommendation in mind.
In the letter, health officials also cited colder weather and the upcoming flu season as reasons for the request.
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