Dozens of COVID-19 clusters have developed in Massachusetts houses of worship since the pandemic began, leading to hundreds of confirmed cases of the highly infectious virus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
Faith leaders have responded "admirably," Baker said, implementing creative strategies such as remote or in-vehicle services to limit transmission of the disease.
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"But our data still found there are too many clusters that stem from houses of worship, and these cases spread out into the community at large," Baker said.
Since the spring, he said the state has identified 36 clusters involving houses of worship. Those clusters contributed to 316 COVID-19 cases and 150 close contacts. Forty-eight Massachusetts cities and towns had one or more cases associated with a cluster at a house of worship. In the last month alone, there have been six clusters with 44 confirmed cases and 22 close contacts.
While Baker said he is not asking anyone to avoid churches, temples and other places of worship, he flagged their role in driving new infections as he stressed taking additional precautions this holiday season.
Services should continue to operate differently with the pandemic still raging and Massachusetts in the grips of a second surge, he said, and residents should alter holiday plans to emphasize safety -- much like he advised ahead of Thanksgiving.
"Recognize and understand that if you're going to get together with people you don't normally spend time with, be safe," Baker said. "Wear the mask. Encourage them to wear the mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Don't share food and beverage. Treat it a little more formally than you might normally."
At his first press conference in a week, Baker also said Massachusetts is "not planning any additional closures or restrictions" amid the ongoing second surge of COVID-19 cases.