In a Friday, May 1, letter to the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Duluth, the Rev. James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator, announced the temporary measures the diocese adopted to protect against the spread of COVID-19 were extended through May 18.

The diocese covers northeastern Minnesota, including churches in Aitkin, Baxter, Brainerd, Crosby, Crosslake, Deerwood, Emily, Fort Ripley, Garrison, Hackensack, Longville, McGregor, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Walker.

The measures, which include suspension of public Mass and cancellation of gatherings of more than 10 people, had previously been extended through May 4.

Under these measures, priests continue to celebrate Masses without a congregation, confession and pastoral care of the sick continue to be provided in ways that accommodate social distancing and churches remain open for periods of time for individual prayer. Funerals and weddings are also permitted, but with major restrictions. Catholics in the diocese continue to be dispensed from the Sunday Mass obligation until it is safe for all to return to church.

In the letter, Bissonette, in concert with the bishops of the other dioceses in Minnesota, also outlined a “phased approach back into having public Masses.” While detailed protocols have not yet been published, the letter noted the first public Masses on May 18 will be limited to smaller groups no more than a third of the capacity of a church building.

“I ask your continued prayers for this effort and your patience as we move through the phases together,” Bissonette wrote in the news release. “Hopefully, we will soon be able to gather publicly to celebrate the Mass, our greatest spiritual work.”