The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Tucson, Ariz., is seen in this 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/Karen Bonar, The Register)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- Tucson Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger announced July 1 that state health officials have "strongly recommended" the suspension of public worship and that he agrees the recommendation is a wise course of action.

"Along with many of you, I too have been carefully following the pandemic's growth here in Arizona," he said in a statement to the faithful of the diocese. "The spike in cases has caused a tremendous stress for our hospitals and the rate of saturation within the general population appears to be moving upward at a serious pace."

As of July 1, he said, "our parishes will no longer be open to the public."

"My hope is that this suspension will be brief, but we owe it to our health care workers -- along with the most vulnerable among us -- to take this temporary step," Bishop Weisenburger explained. "At this time we're returning to the protocols we were following just prior to the reopening of our parishes."

The Arizona Republic daily newspaper reported July 6 that confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arizona had passed 100,000 that day, "just over five months since the first case was identified in Maricopa County in late January and just over two weeks since the case count passed 50,000."

Other news reports said Arizona now leads the U.S. in new cases per capita, with people younger than 42 accounting for more than half of them, according to state health officials.

The Diocese of Tucson is returning to remote worship, including livestreamed Masses, as was done in U.S dioceses after the pandemic hit in mid-March. The diocese had resumed limited public Mass in late May.

"I anticipate this to be a brief suspension of public worship in our churches," Bishop Weisenburger said in his July 1 statement. "While nothing can fully replace our ability to gather in person, now is a time to let the church come to you in your homes."

He added, "Be assured of my daily prayers for your safety and good health, and I greatly look forward to when we can once again be in one another's company."

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