Sunday 5 July, 2020

'New Normal': MoH issues guidelines for places of worship

Stock image

Stock image

The Ministry of Health on Tuesday issued guidelines for places of worship.

All places of worship will reopen on Thursday in time for Corpus Christi.

The Ministry said the guidelines apply to all places of worship and religious services, and all services and activities including weddings, funerals and wakes.

It said is the responsibility of heads of religious organisations to communicate the guidelines to their members or congregants; via announcements, signs, bulletins, websites and social media.

The head of the religious organisation is required to ensure all staff members are trained, virtually, or in-person on the following guidelines.

The guidelines can be accessed on the Ministry of Communications website.

General Attendance

1. Attendance shall be calculated for each building based on a measurement of 36 square feet per person. For instance,

• 1,000 sqft = 27/25 persons

• 2,500 sqft = 69/60 persons

• 4,000 sqft = 111/100 persons

• 7,500 sqft = 208/200 persons and

• 10,000 sqft = 278/250 persons

2. Elderly persons should be given the option to attend services separately and apart from the normal services preferably early in the morning at 6am;

3. As much as possible limit congregating to no more than two days a week (multiple services be allowed on the same day);

4. It is recommended that each service not exceed 60 minutes; and

5. Where there are multiple services, there should be no less than 45 minutes between each service to allow for sanitation and cleaning of facilities.

Sanitation of facilities

1. Establish a housekeeping schedule to incorporate routine cleaning and sanitisation with regular, frequent, and periodic cleaning of worship spaces and shared items;

2. Ensure cleaning and sanitisation immediately before and after all gatherings and services;

3. Ensure that high-touch surfaces such as door knobs, handles, rails, chairs, benches, countertops, restrooms, podiums and shared spaces are properly disinfected on a frequent or periodic basis using a bleach solution - 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) per gallon of water US 3.8L or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water or 70% alcohol solutions or other EPA-approved disinfectant;

4. Where possible, set-up hand sanitiser dispensers at specific areas; and 

5. Ensure proper ventilation systems for areas of congregation using, preferably natural air in the first instance, and/or limited use of air condition.

Personal hygiene

1. Post visual alerts (eg, signs, posters) at the entrance and in strategic locations eg.
waiting areas, elevators, common areas to provide instructions (in appropriate languages) about hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette. Instructions should include wearing a cloth face covering or facemask for source control, and how and when to perform hand hygiene;

2. Provide an adequate supply of 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities or stations (fixed or portable), soap and running water for use before and after the service. It would be ideal to have easy open-close taps or pedal actuated or hands-free taps;

3. Provide feet washing facilities with soap and running water for use before and after for places of worship where persons enter barefoot;

4. When footwear is to be removed before entering building, ensure facilities to allow separate storage; 

5. Endorse and encourage proper mask etiquette when entering and within the establishment; 

6. Encourage persons to bring their personal rugs/ coverings/ fabric where required to worship on the floor; 

7. Encourage persons, where possible, to bring their own worship materials such as religious books, and aids;

8. Endorse and encourage proper cough and sneeze etiquette within the establishment with a tissue or use the inside of their elbow;

9. Anyone who falls ill or exhibits any of the following symptoms (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or recent loss of taste or smell) should not attend services; 

10. Anyone who is immunocompromised and/or has a vulnerable pulmonary disease should not attend services; and

11. Anyone with potential exposure to someone exhibiting any of the above symptoms or confirmed case of COVID-19 should not attend services until the period of quarantine ends.

Staff member or congregant

1. All persons are required to wear a face-covering mask when entering the places of worship and will undergo screening with a contactless thermometer for fever and symptoms consistent with COVID-19; 

2. If a person has a temperature < 37.5˚C and otherwise without symptoms consistent with COVID-19, then he/she is allowed to enter into the place of worship; 

3. If the patient has a temperature >37.5˚C with fever or strongly associated symptoms consistent with COVID-19, then he/she is not allowed into the place of worship; 

4. Identify an area to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 during hours of operation, and ensure that children are not left without adult supervision; 

5. Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone who becomes sick at the facility to their home or a healthcare facility; 

6. Notify local health officials if a person diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the facility and communicate with staff and congregants about potential exposure while maintaining confidentiality as required; 

7. Advise those with exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to seek the nearest healthcare provider for symptoms; 

8. Close off areas used by the sick person and do not use the area until after cleaning and disinfection; and 

9. Advise staff and congregants with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive for COVID-19 not to return to the place of worship until his/her symptoms cease as confirmed by a Medical Practitioner.

Physical distancing

1. Pre and post-service congregations are prohibited within and around the place of worship; 

2. Ensure safety briefings are conducted at the beginning of each service for compliance on new normal measures such as wearing of masks; washing/sanitising hands, maintaining physical distancing, location of wash/restrooms areas, entrance and exits; 

3. Use successive row-by-row entry and exit for persons in an orderly manner that  facilitates/encourages social/physical distancing as per Public Health Regulations; 

4. Signage to have one-way aisles or properly direct congregants to enter and exit the building; 

5. Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or walkways and signs on walls, to ensure that persons remain at least 6 feet apart all around in lines and at other times (eg. guides for creating “one-way routes” in hallways); 

6. Discourage non-essential physical gatherings and organise virtual gatherings through live-streaming, television, radio, social media; 

7. If a gathering is planned, consider holding it outdoors. If this is not possible, ensure that the indoor venue has adequate ventilation preferably using natural air in the first instance, and/or limited use of air condition; 

8. Regulate the number of person/s attending services to avoid crowding based on Public Health Regulations. Consideration should be given to having multiple services with controlled numbers rather than one large gathering; 

9. If the place of worship offers multiple services, consider scheduling services far enough apart to allow time for cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces between services; 

10. Adapt worship practices to prevent physical contact between and among worshipers, eg. replace handshakes and hugs with bow or a verbal greeting; and 

11. Greet people at worship spaces with friendly words and smiles, rather than handshakes or other forms of physical contact.

Sharing of worship materials

1. Adapt worship practices to prevent communal handling of devotional and other objects; 

2. Encourage new ways of reverence for sacred and symbolic objects, such as bowing rather than kissing and touching; 

3. Consistent with the community’s faith tradition, consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects, such as worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, hymnals, religious texts and other bulletins, books, or other items passed or shared among congregants, and encouraging congregants to bring their own such items, if possible, or photocopying or projecting prayers, songs, and texts using electronic means; 

4. When receiving “blessings”, this should be done six feet apart and without physical

5. When conducting the communion service, prepacked single service items should be prepared and given out at pre-determined locations within the place of worship to congregant/s; 

6. Ensure that meals and religious and ceremonial foods are individually prepacked and distributed to persons when exiting the place of worship as per Food and Safety Guidelines as appended; and

7. Ensure setting up a no-touch method to collect contributions where stationary boxes can be used that facilitates/encourages physical distancing.

Use of music

1. At this time the choir/bands cannot be allowed to assemble to maintain effective physical distancing measures; 

2. Ensure that there are limited singers on the podium/platform (altar area); highly recommended solo performers only; and

3. Ensure that microphones and musical instruments are not shared and must be sanitised after each use/service.

Use of technology for sharing of worship materials

1. Consider how technology can be used to make services and other faith-based events available online. Consider partnering with other organisations to leverage on-line channels. For example: Video or audio-tape worship services and ceremonies and broadcast or post them on social media; 

2. Conduct individual religious and care visits by phone or through social media and video chat platforms; 

3. Use a remote or virtual meeting platform or teleconference facilities for meetings or
small group interactive prayer; and 

4. Expand use of television and radio channels.

The Ministry of Health said the Office of the Chief Medical Officer will officially communicate the guidelines to the head of the Inter-Religious Organisation, who will then disseminate to all places of worship to ensure effective implementation and compliance.

It said continuous assessment and reporting on the adherence of the guidelines should be implemented to ensure full compliance.

The head of the Inter-Religious Organisation, through their respective religious bodies and heads, will provide continuous assessment and reporting to the Chief Medical Officer on the implementation of the guidelines through continuous site visits and inspection of the places of worship.

The Ministry added self-regulation is recommended to ensure the strict adherence to these guidelines in order to reduce the threat and mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19.

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