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Infection Control Recommendations for Religious Services, Rites or Ceremonies when Reopening

In review of the provincial guidelines, the HNHU further encourages the following general recommendations be applied by the public and those providing religious services, rites or ceremonies in order to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 infection.  Please note, this is not an exhaustive list of requirements as each task requires its own assessment and plan to address infection control against communicable diseases and other hazards.

Screen attendees and staff for illness

 

  • Post signage (i.e. passive screening) at public and staff entrances to prompt anyone to not enter if they feel unwell, have symptoms of COVID-19, have travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days, or been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • All individuals, including children, should be screened upon arrival, prior to entry, each day they attend services. Consider taking temperature checks of persons entering. Deny entry to any individual who:
    • Has any of the symptoms outlined in the COVID-19 symptoms on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 website.
    • Has come in close contact with a person with symptoms of COVID-19or who has come in close contact of a confirmed case COVID-19, in thepast 14 days.
    • Has travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days.
  • If you provide services in a high risk setting (e.g. Long-term care homes, congregate settings), visitors should be actively screened
  • Where reservations or other appointments are made, advise or screen callers indicating to not attend appointment if ill.
  • Encourage those individuals to use the online Ontario Government self-assessment tool prior to attending.
Continue to practice and ensure physical and social distancing

 

  • Place signage and markers to notify patrons of physical distancing requirements. Ensure physical distancing of at least 2 metres between all individuals not in the same household.
  • Occupancy and attendance limits must meet provincial requirements (i.e. Ontario Regulation 364/20). Small areas such as elevators should be considered.  Consider posting occupancy limits for rooms.
  • Establish different points of entry and exit from high-traffic areas, where feasible to do so.
  • Encourage individuals to avoid facing each other even if 2 metres apart.
  • Discourage handshakes, hugs and other methods of physical contact between persons who are not from the same family.
  • Arrange furniture and other items used by attendees and staff more than 2 metres apart. Mark seating to ensure physical distancing between individuals who are not members of the same household.
  • Assign staff to ensure attendees are maintaining safe physical distances in congested areas like entrances/exits, hallways and washrooms.
  • Limit or reduce workspace occupancy through work from home, work schedules and break schedule adjustments where possible.
  • Encourage congregants to access the place of worship outside of peak hours if they are attending for purposes other than worship services.
  • Cohort individuals and families. For instance, organize attendance so the same individuals/families go to the same service each day/week to minimize mixing of different individuals/families (e.g. establish a system for congregants to RSVP to attend specific services or events)
  • Cohort staff (i.e. schedule shifts so only same group of staff work together) where possible to limit impact of potential workplace outbreak on continuity of operations.
  • Avoid carpooling. Where sharing vehicles is required, passengers should sit in back seats (if available).  Commuters should wear masks and open windows if possible.
Provide easy access to hand washing or hand sanitizer

 

  • Position hand washing or hand sanitizer stations in public (e.g. at entrances) and staff areas. Caution should be taken to limit access to hand sanitizer by young children without supervision.
  • Post signage to encourage proper hand washing in washrooms and food handling areas.
  • Have all employees and attendees wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer before entering the building or site and after contact with surfaces others have touched. Consider having greeters can be at the door to provide hand sanitizer to persons entering.
  • Ensure hand wash stations are adequately supplied at all times.
Enhance environmental cleaning

 

  • Clean and disinfect, at least twice a day (when in use) or following every religious service (e.g., distinct groups of worshippers), whichever is higher, frequently touched surfaces. Surfaces most likely to become contaminated include, but are not limited to, doorknobs, railings, elevator buttons, water fountain/cooler knobs, light switches, toilet and faucet handles, ceremonial objects, electronic devices, and tabletops. Develop a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection as well as daily ‘complete’ cleaning.
  • Ensure staff are trained in proper use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g. contact times, if PPE needs to be worn)
  • Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces such as door knobs/handles, phones, railings, faucets, toilets, and other shared items frequently. Clean and disinfect shared objects (e.g., musical instruments) between each use.  Surfaces should be immediately cleaned following spills or where someone displays respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough or sneeze) in the area.  Discard items that cannot be properly cleaned or disinfected (e.g. food items) after becoming contaminated.
  • Ensure washrooms are cleaned after every service, when visibly soiled and at least twice a day when services are not provided.
  • Change tables should be cleaned and disinfected after every use. Signage should be posted providing instructions for attendees as to how to do so where cleaning and disinfection products (e.g. wipes) are provided to patrons.  Otherwise instructions should include customers notifying staff immediately after use.
  • Disinfectants used in public settings should have a DIN and virucidal claim.
  • Wash, rinse, disinfect, and then sanitize food contact surfaces, food preparation surfaces, and food preparation equipment.
  • Ensure that cleaning or disinfecting product residues are not left on table surfaces. Residues could cause allergic reactions or cause someone to ingest the chemicals.
  • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of disinfectants to avoid food contamination and harm to employees and other individuals. This includes storing products securely away from children.
  • Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
Ensure food safety

 

  • Provision of food and beverages before, during, or after faith-based activities or events is strongly discouraged because of the increased the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • If food or drink must be provided as part of a faith-based ritual (e.g. communion), the following precautions must be taken to prevent the risk of infection:
    • Food or drink must be served to attendees in pre-packaged or individual portions by a small number of designated individuals. Food and drink containers or utensils (e.g. chalices or plates) should not be shared or passed between attendees.
    • Physical contact between the designated serving individuals and attendees must not occur while serving food or drink (e.g. placing food in a persons’ mouth). Instead, the server can place the individual food or drink portion in a person’s outstretched hand, or on a table for the attendee to pick up.
    • The designated serving individuals should wash or sanitize hands immediately before serving and should wear a clean, properly-fitted non-medical mask for the duration of time spent serving.
  • Tables should not be set with utensils, dishes and other food service items until the attendees are present.
  • Avoid using or sharing items that are reusable, such as condiments, shared food containers. Instead, use single serving condiments.
  • No self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations is permitted. Similarly, use of food and beverage utensils and containers brought in by customers should be avoided.
  • Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes, napkins, tablecloths). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water, or in a dishwasher. Employees should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after handling used food service items.
Shared Items

 

  • Do not hand out or share items that cannot be cleaned and sanitized before and after each use (e.g., books, hymns, prayer mats, pipes, and programs).
  • Pre-print daily song sheets and discard after services are completed.
  • Consider using projection or audio-visual systems to share information.
  • Do not share microphones.
  • Do not offer shared receptacles for liquid (e.g. holy water fonts). If washing facilities are required, they should be supplemented by hand hygiene products.
  • If it is required for religious or spiritual reasons, touching of ceremonial objects (e.g., statues, religious symbols, rings) may occur if hand hygiene is performed before and after touching the object.
  • Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean, sanitize, or disinfect.
  • Limit any sharing of food, tools, equipment, or supplies by staff members.
  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (e.g., serving spoons) to the extent possible; otherwise, limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of workers at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
  • Do not pass donation collection plates or containers between attendees. Alternatives include:
    • A designated area to place offerings or donations.
    • Online offerings or donations
  • Use touchless payment options as much as possible, if available. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as pens, counters, or hard surfaces between use and encourage attendees to use their own pens.
Music or singing

 

  • Singing by the congregation in churches is not allowed at this time, even if the members of the congregation are wearing masks or face coverings.  The provincial regulations require any person who is singing or playing a brass or wind instrument be separated by a plexiglass barrier or some other impermeable barrier and that all performers must also maintain a  two metre (six feet) physical distance from every other person.
Provide personal protective equipment and physical barriers where applicable

 

  • It is recommended that all individuals wear a face covering when physical distancing is a challenge or not possible.
  • Where persons cannot maintain physical distancing, install barriers (e.g. plexiglass in kitchens and at cash registers, host stands, or food pickup areas) or provide appropriate PPE (e.g. masks for staff who may need to be within 2 metres of customers or other staff members).
  • Appropriate PPE should be determined based on the task being completed
  • Ensure staff are trained as to how to don (i.e. put on) and doff (i.e. take off) PPE
Provide alternative service delivery where possible

 

  • Suspend activities that increase risk of disease transmission, including:
    • Indoor singing activities or choir service (for outdoor singing activities and choir service, ensure physical distancing). Please note: Infected people can transmit the virus over greater distances through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing, shouting, when playing certain instruments such as wind instruments or performing (e.g. drama or dance);
    • Social gatherings before or after in-person services, including those where food and drink are shared;
    • Sharing or distributing materials or objects, which may include but is not limited to: books, communion, microphones, prayer mats, prayer shawls, water, etc.;
    • Religious rituals that involve physical contact between individuals, such as anointing with oils or baptisms increase the likelihood of disease transmission and should be performed in an alternate fashion that minimizes physical contact;
    • Regular childcare and children’s programming.
  • Protect vulnerable individuals, especially those over 70, those who are immuno-compromised, etc. To support this, places of worship may:
    • Recommend vulnerable individuals take part in virtual or drive-in services; and
    • Offer a dedicated service for them.
  • Prioritize outdoor seating as much as possible.
  • Stagger and limit service and/or meal times to minimize the number of attendees in the room.
  • Provide services on-line or other methods (e.g. drive-in limiting interactions amongst people
  • Consider extending business hours if it reduces surges in attendance.
  • Hold meetings so that everyone is 2 metres or more apart, online or via teleconference.
  • Offer options for vulnerable employees at higher risk for severe illness (including older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions) that limits their exposure risk (e.g., modified job responsibilities such as managing inventory rather than working as a cashier, or managing administrative needs through telework).
Get your water system ready after a prolonged facility shutdown

 

  • For those on a municipal or communal water supply, flush your water lines by opening all faucets for 10-15 minutes and the water runs clear.
  • For those on a private water supply, ensure equipment is operating properly (e.g. filters, treatment units), flush and consider shock chlorinating system. Only commence use of water system once satisfactory drinking water samples are obtained.  For Small Drinking Water System Operators, follow regulatory requirements (O. Reg. 319/08)
Increase ventilation

  • Where possible, increase the ventilation system’s air intake or open doors and windows. Avoid central re-circulation where possible. Change HVAC system filters regularly.
  • Similarly, open windows when in vehicles with others where possible.
Prevent a COVID-19 Outbreak

 

  • Consider keeping a record of all individuals who attend services or enter the facility (including names, contact information, dates and times), which may help support case and contact tracing in the event of an outbreak.
Keep staff up-to-date on the evolving situation and applicable health and safety issues

 

  • Ensure staff know how to report an illness in a timely manner and take action to protect themselves and others when at work
  • Review signs, symptoms and methods of transmission of COVID-19
  • Ensure staff know when and how to self-isolate should it be required
  • Consider having a point person for each shift that can address COVID-19 concerns

As with all workplaces, the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be applied.  Safety is everyone’s responsibility under the act and thus all staff should assess and plan to address their tasks with infection control in mind.  Application of R.A.C.E. is recommended:

Rrecognize the hazard

Aassess the risk associated with the hazard

Ccontrol the risk associated with the hazard (e.g. Hierarchy of Controls)

Eevaluate the controls

Please be advised, the HNHU is not responsible to address health and safety complaints issued by employees against their employers.  Employees and employers seeking further direction on occupational health and safety measures should consult the Ministry of Labour.