Catholics in the Buffalo Diocese will not be obligated to attend Mass this weekend, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger announced on Friday.
The bishop said he was removing the obligation to attend Mass "in light of the serious health risks to vulnerable populations posed by the novel coronavirus, and to prevent widespread infection."
Many other Buffalo area churches, including the region's megachurches, have made similar announcements.
The bishop's move will affect tens of thousands of Buffalo area Catholics who regularly attend Mass each Saturday or Sunday.
"Until further notice, Catholics of the Diocese of Buffalo should use their prudent judgment as to whether or not to attend Mass. Older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and family members of such individuals should take special care in discerning the best course of action to avoid exposure to large groups of people," the bishop said in a news release.
The bishop said the change will remain in effect for at least the next two weekends.
Meanwhile, Episcopalian church services were canceled in Northwest Pennsylvania and Western New York by that denomination's Bishop Sean Rowe.
At least two of the region's megachurches – Eastern Hill Wesleyan and the Chapel at CrossPoint – are suspending services indefinitely. Their pastors urged worshipers to watch services online.
Pastor Darius Pridgen made a similar announcement to members of True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
"I feel a responsibility to do this for the first time in 25 years as your pastor to keep you safe," Pridgen said in a Facebook message to parish members.