Places of Worship

As part of the government’s staged approach to reopening the province, in-person gatherings at places of worship are now permitted with certain conditions, as described in this guidance document.

Faith community leaders should carefully consider how and when to re-establish face-to-face activities. Some faith communities may have many members who are older and/or have chronic medical conditions, and it is strongly recommended that provisions be made to enable them to participate in a safe manner. You may wish to continue with online services, either on their own, or in addition to in-person services.

This guidance reflects the current need for protection from COVID-19. As the spread of infection is brought under further control, revised guidance will be issued. Many faith communities operate drop-ins, lunch programs or other services for people who are homeless or other vulnerable people. Specific guidance is being prepared for these programs.

All places of worship must adhere to the following requirements for indoor ceremonies (e.g. religious services or rites, weddings, funerals, etc.):

  • Attendance at indoor ceremonies must be limited to no more than 30% of the room capacity. The 30% limit applies for all ceremonies that are held at the place of worship, or at other indoor public settings such as community centres, funeral homes, or hotels.
  • Indoor events organized in association with ceremonies (such as the reception for a wedding or funeral) have an attendance limit of 50 people.
  • All participants must wear a mask or face covering.
  • Enhance cleaning and disinfection.
  • Adapt or suspend activities that increase the risk of disease transmission, which may include:
    • Singing, choirs and playing wind or brass instruments.
      • Consider using audio or video recordings instead of live singing or wind or brass instrumental music.
      • Group singing is strongly discouraged. However, if more than one person is singing, limit the number of people singing to the fewest possible.
      • Anyone singing or playing wind or brass instruments should be 2 metres from anyone else and separated by an impermeable barrier. If an impermeable barrier is not used, anyone singing or playing wind or brass instruments should be separated from any other person (outside of the same household or social circle) to the greatest extent possible (but at least 2 metres).
    • Social gatherings before or after in-person services, including those where food and drink are shared. If held, social gatherings are subject to public gathering limits, and physical distancing is required. Public gathering limits are different than the limits permitted for religious services, rites, and ceremonies.
      • If serving food at any type of indoor celebration:
        • No buffet-style service may be provided.
        • Patrons must be seated when eating or drinking at the establishment.
        • The establishment must be configured so that patrons seated at the same or different tables are separated by a distance of at least two metres.
    • Sharing or distributing materials or objects, which may include but is not limited to: books, communion, microphones, prayer mats, prayer shawls, water, etc. If any materials or objects are shared or distributed:
      • Ensure that hand hygiene is performed prior to distribution or sharing;
      • Consider leaving objects or materials to be distributed on a table for individuals to pick up; and/or
      • Limit the number of individuals who have contact with materials or objects. Ensure any materials or objects that are returned or accessed within the setting are disinfected or not re-used immediately.
    • Any childcare or children’s programming should operate in a manner consistent with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance: Summer Day Camps

Faith community leaders/organizers are responsible for preventing the risk of infection among staff, volunteers, community members, and visitors who participate in their activities.

Preparation

  • Consider alternative ways to involve individuals at greater risk from COVID-19, including online services.
  • Plan how to ensure physical distancing for 30% of the capacity of the available space. This is the maximum number of participants allowed. The reduced capacity number includes all participants (including staff) except children under two years of age.
  • Plan the quantity of seating to allow for a two metre/six foot distance between individuals or household groups by removing seating, or if seating is fixed, marking it unavailable or roping it off. If the reduced seating capacity will be less than what is required for the number of attendees, consider re-arranging the schedule of services to provide more, but smaller, services.
  • Plan how to control movement into and out of your facility, as well as within the space, to ensure a two metre/six foot distance. Separate entrances and exits may not be necessary as participants usually enter and exit within distinct time periods.
  • Discourage movement against the flow of people moving in the space. It may be necessary to mark off two metre/six foot distances outside and/or in a vestibule if it is anticipated that lines will form. Consider having someone control the flow of traffic.
  • Consider developing a system to RSVP attendance to specific services or events. This may also allow for online screening of attendees at the same time.
  • Ensure all water systems (drinking fountains) are safe to use after the prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of diseases associated with water. Encourage participants to bring their own water bottles. If drinking fountains are available, ensure they are used safely and cleaned and disinfected daily. Discontinue use of a holy water stoup.
  • Develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfecting.

Prevent COVID-19 Outbreaks

  • Keep a record of attendance for all services at your place of worship in the event that someone has attended while contagious. This will facilitate contact tracing by the health unit.
    • This includes keeping up to date contact information for individuals attending services.

    • This could include keeping a record of online RSVPs, having someone observe and record names, having members sign in through a safe method (do not provide a pen that can be passed between people), or providing a list of members upon request.

  • If there is a case of COVID-19 who was contagious while attending services, public health will use that list to notify the attendees and staff. This may include instructions to self-isolate or self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Anyone with even one symptom of COVID-19 should get tested and stay home.
  • Public health will advise of any additional cleaning and disinfecting measures needed to reduce the risk of spread in the setting.

Establish Policies for Health Screening

  • Staff and volunteers must report illness immediately to their manager and stay home if they are sick. Staff and volunteers must be screened each time before starting their duties.
  • All individuals, including children, must be screened upon arrival or prior to their entry to the place of worship each time they attend services. Entry should be denied to any individual who has
    • any of the symptoms of COVID-19;
    • come in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or another person with symptoms of COVID-19 during the past 14 days;
    • travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days.
  • Persons who become ill while at a ceremony must go home right away and self-isolate. They can call the EOHU, their healthcare provider or an assessment centre for guidance about testing.

Training

All attendees, staff and volunteers must use a mask/face covering when indoors at all times. Instruct staff and volunteers on proper hand hygiene techniques and respiratory etiquette, when to use masks, proper use of masks, and how to clean or discard single-use masks appropriately.

Print and Post Signs

Add similar information to the organization’s website. Encourage attendees to use the online self-assessment tool before every visit to the place of worship and/or set up a screening station away from the entrance to avoid crowding.

During Ceremonies

  • Remind everyone not to attend the ceremony in person if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Modify the activities before and during the service to ensure a two metre/six foot distance between leaders, staff, volunteers and attendees at all times.
  • Activities that may increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission should be altered or discontinued.
  • With instrumental music (e.g. piano, organ, but not wind instruments), if more than one is being played, ensure physical distancing, unless players are from the same household.
  • Ensure attendees use a mask/face covering. Cloth masks can be made with household items such as a T-shirt or bedsheet, or a bandana may be used. Physical distancing is still required even when using a mask.
  • Avoid any physical contact. Encourage people to greet each other with a smile, bow or wave.
  • Allow for adequate cleaning and disinfecting of prayer and high traffic areas between services.
  • Avoid use of items that are difficult to clean, sanitize or disinfect.
  • Do not hand out or share items that cannot be cleaned and sanitized before and after use (e.g. books, hymns, prayer mats). Use printed service leaflets and discard after service or use projection or audio-visual systems. Do not share microphones.
  • Rituals involving close physical contact (e.g. baptism, circumcision) or shared items (e.g. receptacles, washing facilities) are strongly discouraged at this time. If they must be performed, considerations need to be made to provide them safely such as use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Holy communion is not allowed. Discontinue use of holy water rites.
  • Do not pass offering plates. Consider a designated area to offer donations or use of online/e-transfer or debit/credit card tap machines.
  • Encourage hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette with hand sanitizer stations (60% alcohol concentration). Avoid access to hand sanitizer by young children without supervision.
  • Encourage good respiratory etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when coughing or sneezing, or use a tissue and discard in waste bin. Wash or sanitize hands after.

Enhanced Cleaning and Disinfection

  • Disinfectants kill germs on surfaces. Remove surface dirt first in order for the disinfectant to work.
  • Most regular household cleaning products are effective at eliminating the virus.
  • Cleaning and disinfectant products should have an 8-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN) to confirm they are approved for use in Canada. Check the expiry dates of products and always follow the manufacturer's instructions. Keep products away from children.
  • Cleaning/disinfection wipes should only be used for surfaces, and according to the manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, chlorine bleach solutions may be used for disinfection.
  • Educate staff on proper use of cleaning agents and disinfectants, including required disinfectant contact times (amount of time that the product will need to remain wet on a surface to achieve disinfection). Understand safety precautions and requirement for use of mask and gloves.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation when using products (e.g. open windows, doors, or use fans).
  • Ensure ventilation systems are operating properly, and replace filters as scheduled or sooner.
  • Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces (e.g. toilets, sinks, door handles, light switches, remote controls) twice a day or more, and when visibly dirty.
  • Ensure washrooms are always stocked with liquid soap and paper towel.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after cleaning.

Drive-In Religious Gatherings

  • Only members of the same household, social circle or bubble can be in one vehicle.
  • Discourage people from leaving their vehicles during the service, except when using the washroom.
  • Vehicles must be parked two metres/six feet apart or more. Discourage the idling of engines.
  • No more than five people can conduct the service at one time from outside a vehicle, and they must stay at least two metres/six feet apart from each other.
  • If faith community leaders, staff or volunteers are to approach a vehicle to provide service to its occupants, everyone must wear a mask.
  • A person who ordinarily uses a non-motorized vehicle because of their religious belief and who attends the gathering must remain with their non-motorized vehicle except where necessary to use a washroom

More Information

For more information, visit the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s (EOHU) website at www.EOHU.ca/coronavirus or call 1 800 267-7120.

Resources

Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario