The dust collection on pews will soon be brushed aside as more Manitobans return to their places of worship.

As of Friday morning, places of worship were allowed to reopen at a 25 per cent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Along with this, some other church activities can resume in person.

"We have to look at taking our steps slowly to be able to open up a variety of different sectors within Manitoba," Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, says. "We think all these things are important for people but we cannot just have everything open at once."

atwalDuring a Friday press conference, the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer says the province may continue to reopen in three weeks' time. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube.)

Atwal says the wording of "normal worship services" in the Public Health Orders is clear, that the 25 per cent capacity only extends to usual services. Everything else will fall under separate orders.

"The things like church school service or church meetings would have to follow the gathering sizes, so they would be indoor gathering sizes related to that but for religious actives such as services are listed within the orders."

Atwal says there is a risk of spread at church services hosting 100 people, but the province is hoping to reduce that by giving them distancing guidelines.


Non-regular gatherings and activities

According to provincial guidelines, Sunday School can operate in person following day camp orders, gathering in groups of 25 per cent or fewer. Other instructional settings for children can follow those orders as well.

For adults, any gatherings that are not part of the regular service must adhere to the current Public Health Orders for social gatherings. Currently, these group sizes are limited to five or fewer people indoors and 10 or fewer outdoors.

"Anything else happening in the facility would likely have to follow under a gathering rule for indoors," Atwal says.

Singing continues to be discouraged, as the province considers it a super-spreader of COVID-19. During a press conference earlier in the week, Dr. Brent Roussin said vaccine uptake will be important when allowing this activity to resume.

On Friday the province announced its hopes to give all willing Manitobans their first dose of the vaccine by June.

"When we are looking at other types of gatherings, we want to limit, and we need to continue to limit, the number of interactions between individuals."

Atwal says in any situation, Manitobans should do their best to physically distance themselves, with the exception of some recreational activities. 

Weddings and funerals

Despite often in the same place as regular worship facilities weddings and funerals, those religious ceremonies have a significantly lower capacity limit. They are only permitted to have 10 people or fewer.

"There are risks associated with funerals, weddings, close prolonged indoor contact. There is a lot of emotion in play when we are dealing with funerals and weddings," Atwal says, noting that the province has seen multiple outbreaks at weddings and funerals.


Next steps

Atwal is asking Manitobans to look at the bigger picture of reopenings, seeing all of the other reopenings being done in conjunction with the places of worship.

"When we look at one sector specifically it might be easy to say this is a low-risk activity, there is only a handful of people here, but you have to put a multiple on that," the doctor says, indicating that household members all are interacting with the public in different ways, bring those potential exposures into the communities.

The doctor says in three weeks' time, they will be reevaluating the public health orders, potentially making more changes.

At this time the province will not be moving out of Level Red and is not currently making different health orders for the separate health regions.