March 13 (UPI) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has temporarily suspended all public gatherings worldwide to combat the spread of the deadly and infectious coronavirus among its congregation.
Effective immediately, all public gatherings, including conferences, worship services and branch, ward and stake activities, have been suspended, the church said Thursday in a statement.
"We have considered the counsel of local church leaders, government officials and medical professionals, and have sought the lord's guidance in these matters," the church said. "Beginning immediately, all public gatherings of church members are being temporarily suspended worldwide until further notice."
The church called for essential leadership meetings to be held electronically and said discussions are ongoing concerning how to make sacrament available to its 13 million members at least once a month.
The news comes a day after the church announced that the public would be barred from attending its April general conference in Utah and that sessions would be distributed online.
Also Thursday, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Maryland Episcopal Church announced they would be suspending service.
In Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced the closure of Catholic schools and masses starting Saturday until further notice though weddings and funerals may proceed if attendance is limited to immediate family.
"We are aware of the rapidly developing district and state guidelines regarding the coronavirus," Gregory said in a statement. "My number one priority as your archbishop is to ensure the safety and health of all who attend our masses, the children in our schools and those we welcome through our outreach and services. Please know that this decision does not come lightly to close our schools or cancel masses."
In Maryland, Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton said in a statement he directed all churches to shut down public worship services starting Sunday.