All faith-based organizations must develop a COVID-19 safety plan in accordance with protocols set by WorkSafeBC. The safety plan for Vernon House of Faith is written in accordance with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control publication on faith-based organizations.
A reminder to all: these measures are not forever, but they are very important for now, to protect the health of everyone in the community and in the province. There will be a time when we can all come together again. Until then, participating safely in services and activities is integral to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those who are most vulnerable to complications of this disease.
Consider those who are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 illness people over the age of 65, with chronic health conditions, medical complexity or immune suppression. Work to support these people to participate in services and activities remotely or virtually.
It is recommended that organizers of faith-based services follow the basic precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including:
- Encouraging everyone to assess themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and to stay home if sick. Common symptoms of Covid-19 are:
- Fever (temperature above 37° C)
- Cough or worsening of chronic cough
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches
While less common, symptoms can also include:
- Stuffy nose
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Dizziness, confusion
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rashes or discoloration of fingers or toes;
- Ensuring everyone has easy access to handwashing stations or hand sanitizing supplies;
- Providing space to allow people to maintain physical distance from others; and
- Practicing routine cleaning and disinfection (see section below).
If Someone becomes Ill
If someone develops symptoms of COVID-19, ask them to stay away from other people and encourage them to use the Ministry of Health’s online self-assessment tool or call 8-1-1 to determine if they need further assessment for COVID-19 testing by a health-care provider or at a local collection centre.
At this time, only people with cold, influenza of COVID-19-like symptoms or those who are referred to testing by a health-care professional should be tested for COVID-19. Routine asymptomatic testing or temperature checking of members is not recommended in B.C.
Mass Gathering Limitations and Requirements to Collect Contact Information
The Provincial Health Officer’s Order on Gatherings and Events prohibits events (e.g., congregations of people) of more than 50 people in one space at one time, recognizing that many spaces will have to have less than 50 people in order to allow for physical distancing.
The reason this order is in place is to ensure that public health has the capacity to identify and conduct contact tracing if a case (or cases) of COVID- 19 is detected within 14 days of the event.
Gatherings of more than 50 people make this critical public health measure to reduce spread difficult. In large buildings that have multiple spaces, as long as groups do not mix, a gathering less than 50 people in one space and a gathering less than 50 people in a separate space does not contravene the mass gathering order.
Faith-based services are considered “events” under the Provincial Health Officer’s Order on Gatherings and Events. Under this Order, the organizer must collect the first and last names and email addresses or phone numbers of all in attendance, and retain this information for 30 days, in case there is an exposure event, to facilitate contact tracing. If renting or using a space that is not owned by the organizer, the organizer must also provide this information to the owner who must retain this information for 30 days.
Holding Services Safely
Maintain Physical Distancing
Continue to use virtual or online methods of holding a faith-based service.
In person, a safe physical distance of two metres between people from different households must be maintained as much as possible. Enhance the flow of air into the building by opening windows and doors. Encourage members to greet each other with a smile and a wave instead of direct person-to- person contact. Children who are not symptomatic can play together but should minimize physical contact. Toys should be made of hard materials which can be scrubbed with hot soapy water and disinfected, or placed in a dishwasher. For materials which can’t be washed, such as paper and crayons, ensure there are enough supplies to limit sharing.
Entry and Greeting
- Establish and post an occupancy limitfor the facility. Establish and post occupancy limits for areas within the facility including kitchens and washrooms.
- Establish and post policies restricting access to staff, volunteers, and visitors who are sick, who have travelled from outside of Canada, or who have been advised by public health to self-isolate.
- Identify areas, such as entries/exits or lobbies, where crowding and bottlenecks are common, and use volunteers, staff, or barriers to redirect people who may gather in these areas. Control and stagger entry into, and exit from, the place of worship before and after group activities or events (e.g., by dismissing individuals by household or section, rather than all at once).
- Establish different points of entry and exit from high-traffic areas, where feasible to do so.
- To support public health contact tracing efforts in the event that an attendee at the place of worship tests positive, organizers can consider asking individuals to provide their name and contact information when attending faith-based activities and events onsite.
- Post signage to inform every one of the measures in place.
- Provide hand sanitizer, containing at least 60% alcohol, at the door for people to use when they enter.
- Ensure greeters remain at least 2 metres from visitors and others or have them stand behind a plexiglass barrier.
- Provide a safe place for visitors to dispose of used sanitizing wipes and other personal protective equipment.
- Remove non-essential communal items, such as pamphlets and magazines.
Reduce Higher Risk Activities
Although important to congregations, there are certain activities that are considered at high risk for COVID-19 transmission.
These activities should be reduced or altered during the course of the pandemic, and other virtual means should be explored to support members to partake in safer ways.
Examples of activities to reduce or alter include practices that involve person-to-person contact such as hands and faces, shared cups and vessels. For necessary practices, ensure all sanitary and safety measures are taken; minimize physical contact whenever possible and encourage hand washing or the use of a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after contact. For donations or offerings, consider designating an area that members can approach to donate or provide offerings, or consider an online method of this collection. Wear masks when a faith-based practice can’t be done by a distance of two meters between participants.
- Singing and Choirs
Singing is a very important activity for many faith-based organizations. Although it is a higher risk activity, there are ways to make singing safer.
While not as forceful as coughing or sneezing, singing can produce large and small droplets that the virus lives in. While large droplets tend to fall to the ground fairly quickly, smaller droplets can be suspended in the air for up to nine minutes. These small droplets can be inhaled by others into the respiratory system. Having a group of people singing increases the number of these small droplets. In a poorly ventilated room, these droplets can fill a room quickly. The number of singers, the room size, the level of ventilation, and duration of singing all contribute to determining risk of transmission, as well as the transmission within the community.
- How to make singing safer:
- There may be no safe physical distance between singers if someone singing is infected with COVID-19; this is why it is very important for people to remain home if they are ill and to stay away from others;
- For people who are well enough to attend services, maintain the two-metre distance between singers and between those who are singing and those who are enjoying the music;
- Try singing outdoors wherever possible; indoors, consider the size of the room that the singing is taking place in, and whether or not the ventilation is adequate. Open windows or doors to help ventilate the room. Singing should be avoided in unventilated rooms;
- Indoors, limit the number of people who are singing;
- Consider breaking into smaller groups that sing together for shorter periods of time;
- Consider having one soloist sing for the entire congregation, ensuring at least two metres between the singer and the audience;
- Encourage humming along to recorded music or along with a soloist or small group of singers; and
- Do not share microphones, music stands, or other equipment.
- Food and Beverage Services
Follow the protocols and guidance for routine practices as set out in the Food Safety Act and the Food Premises Regulation.
- Consider avoiding communal or buffet-style meals but identify an alternative, such as pre- packaged meals;
- Ensure hand washing stations or hand sanitizer is placed close to where food and drinks are served;
- Designate a person to serve food and drinks to others, and ensure that person washes their hands before serving;
- Ensure physical distancing is maintained;
- Clean condiments between uses if these items are shared.
- Wash the communion table with hot soapy water.
- Juice will be poured into individual cups. and bread portions will be placed on individual plates or paper towels.
- Participants will line up in family groups, separated from others by two meters.
- Immediately following communion, one person from each family group will dispose of their garbage, and sanitize their hands.
Cleaning and Disinfection
- The virus that causes COVID-19 can be broken down by soaps and detergents as well as appropriate disinfectants.
- Soiled surfaces can be wiped with hot soapy water.
- High touch surfaces should be wiped with hot soapy water, allowed to dry, then disinfected by wiping with Lysol Disinfecting Wipes. Aim to clean high touch surfaces before and after a gathering, and at least every hour during the activity.