HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Faith leaders across Montana have signed a pledge to encourage people to stay home and safe and to prioritize remote worship services during the upcoming holidays amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“The lesson of this pandemic is that we are all interconnected and dependent on each other,” wrote Rabbi Francine Roston of Glacier Jewish Community/B'nai Shalom in Flathead Valley. “We can remain connected and worship without risking illness and death this winter, protecting each other and protecting our dedicated healthcare workers.”
Roston said people of faith must trust medical experts and caregivers along with a higher power and should reduce contacts with anyone beyond their household to remain safe.
The pledge is based on one promoted by the Wisconsin Council of Churches. More than 35 religious leaders had signed the pledge by mid-day Friday, as Montana health officials announced an additional 1,475 cases of COVID-19.
More than 53,000 residents have tested positive for the respiratory virus since the pandemic began in mid-March. Infections are believed to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and research shows people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms.
At least 567 Montana residents have died of complications from the virus. More than 500 people remained hospitalized Friday.
A 62-year-old Montana State Prison inmate died Wednesday at a Missoula hospital, corrections officials said. The agency's “deaths in custody” page on its website says Gene Richard Meredith died at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. His was the third virus-related inmate death.
Meredith was serving a life sentence for the 2006 stabbing death of 51-year-old Rose Torres in Great Falls.
There are 112 active cases of COVID-19 at the state prison in Deer Lodge, the corrections department reported.
More than five dozen Montana Army National Guard soldiers have completed a four-week mission to assist prison staff during the outbreak. Nine soldiers contracted the virus, Major Dan Bushnell told the Missoulian. Staffing levels continue to be affected at the prison.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.