Manitoba's Chief Public Health Officer is clarifying questions about how faith facilities could operate.
As soon as late next week people would be heading back to the pew. The proposed changes, set to be in effect starting on February 13 for three weeks, could see worship facilities reopening at a 10 per cent capacity limit with a maximum of 50 people. Manitoba's Chief Public health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says the 50 person maximum would be for the entire building.
"We wanted to ensure we could get some capacity for these people to attend worship services but it is going to be very clear that it is 10 per cent of the facility and it is a maximum of 50 in that facility," he says.
Roussin says facilities cannot count individual rooms separately under the proposed 10 per cent capacity. Cohorting, something previously implemented by the province, is not allowed. The only people allowed to be seated together are those in the same household.
He says the reason for this is because the province is taking a cautious approach to the reopenings, noting that the reopenings would not work if the province offered mass reopenings, allowing more opportunities for the virus to spread.
Roussin says the proposed change to worship services only applies to certain services.
"At this point, it will be listed in the orders that it is for regular services."
Things such as in-person youth group meetings and Bible studies would not be permitted. Weddings, baptisms, and funerals have their own separate health orders.
Drive-in church services, as well as online delivery methods, continue to be allowed.
Some pastors in the province say that the 10 per cent capacity is not enough, noting it is not worthwhile for them to open their doors.
"I am a little surprised that they are thinking about 10 per cent, but really it is a small number that the input of how much work it would take to be covid safe and to have all those protocols and to have the number of people in our building makes it hard to think about if we really want to put in the effort to do that," Pastor Erik Parker from Sherwood Park Lutheran Church says.
Pastor Jason Foster from The Pas Christian Fellowship wants churches to be able to open at a 25 per cent capacity, noting that for their The Pas church 10 per cent is not enough. He says they might use the 10 per cent capacity to instead bolster their online worship team.
Pastor Andy Capesinio, President of Filipino Interchurch Fellowship Winnipeg, says their churches are excited at the opportunity to reopen at some capacity.
"I hope we will finalize and somehow improve more and increase a little bit, but that is good enough."
Places of worship continue something health officials are cautious about. They say unlike in retail settings, people are sitting in the same space for an hour or more at one time. They say the prolonged time in inclosed indoor is risky.
The province is inviting Manitobans to province their feedback before the orders are official.