Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in 2019. Photo: Vatican Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the Vatican, despite the cancellation of religious services elsewhere in Italy thanks to an ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, AP reports.

Why it matters: Mass gatherings in close proximity — like religious services and sporting events — could become an easy way for the virus to spread as the outbreak widens across the globe.

  • Venice, which has a number of confirmed coronavirus cases, cancelled its main Ash Wednesday Mass at the landmark St. Mark's Basilica.

The state of play: Italy has the fourth-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 322.

  • Francis still kissed a child and shook hands with pilgrims during his usual audience in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square.
  • He also directly addressed the outbreak during his remarks, saying, "I want to again express my closeness to those suffering from the coronavirus and the health care workers who are treating them, as well as the civil authorities and all those who are working to help patients and stop the contagion."

The big picture: Taking on the virus is an issue for religious leaders across the globe.

  • Spiking coronavirus cases in Iran are raising concerns that the disease "infiltrated" a popular pilgrimage route for Shiite Muslims in the city of Qom, The Guardian reports.
  • Mosques in Iraq have been instructed to give advice on how to best avoid the coronavirus during their Friday sermons, Reuters notes.

Go deeper: Global coronavirus cases spread as U.S. soldier tests positive in South Korea

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Coronavirus cases spike in Texas, Oregon and Arizona

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed/Axios

Texas, Arizona and Oregon saw significant spikes last week in new coronavirus infections, while cases also continued to climb in a handful of states where steady increases have become the norm.

Why it matters: Nationwide, new cases have plateaued over the past week. To get through this crisis and safely continue getting back out into the world, we need them to go down — a lot.

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DeSantis says Florida bars and clubs can reopen this week

Outdoor restaurant in Fort Lauderdale on May 18. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that bars and clubs will be allowed to reopen on Friday, as the state continues to scale down restrictions it put in place because of the coronavirus, WCTV reports.

Why it matters: DeSantis ordered bars and clubs to close in mid-March as one of the first actions the state took to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

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U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

South Carolina restaurants and bars will have to close alcohol sales by 11 p.m., beginning Saturday, under an order issued Friday by Gov. Henry McMaster.

The big picture: The U.S. had another record single-day spike of 63,200 new coronavirus cases from Thursday. COVID-19 cases in South Carolina have increased, with 21,560 cases recorded in the last two weeks.