You will find at the end of my comments the updated HSE norms regarding places of worship. The HSE guidelines are quite detailed. A quick reading of them might refresh our memory on what is required. Most of the guidance is already in place in our Churches. I have placed in bold letter the areas where there has been some change.
These changes include norms that services should not exceed one hour including entrance and exit times; the need also of celebrants to wear face masks; choirs and windblown instruments are not permitted; masks and not visors to be used; restriction on use of the chalice.
UPDATED HSE GUIDANCE FOR RELIGIOUS SERVICES
Actions for churches and congregational settings where religious services take place
COVID-19 is easily spread between people and we need to exercise extreme caution to limit the spread of the virus. This guidance applies to congregational settings and places of worship including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. The measures below are aimed at minimising the risk of COVID-19.
• Current Government Guidelines must be adhered to. This includes the total number of worshippers allowed to congregate, dependent on the current level of restrictions.
• Remind religious leaders and members of the congregation to stay away from services if they are ill with symptoms of COVID-19 or other infectious disease, or if they have been in contact with a person with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
• Appoint a COVID-19 Officer if feasible.
• Have a plan for dealing with religious leaders or members of the congregation who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 during a service, including isolating them from other people and seeking medical advice without delay (e.g. phone a GP or Emergency Services). Have contact numbers for emergency services readily available.
• Explain clearly how the service will be conducted and what is expected of all members of the congregation when attending a service.
• Services should not exceed one hour (this includes entrance and exit times) with at least one hour between services to allow for cleaning and ventilation and to avoid crowding/overlap.
• Suggest that those who are more vulnerable due to age or ill-health might participate via radio or webcam where available.
• A risk assessment should be carried out for each premises to determine how many people can attend within the requirements of social distancing, and to identify high risk points in the building, e.g. narrow entrance/exits. The number permitted to attend should be clearly displayed at each entrance.
• Public Health signage should be displayed at entrances to places of religious worship taking care not to cause obstruction or delay for those entering or leaving.
• Where possible, separate points of entrance and exit should be identified and clearly marked to allow for one-way traffic.
• In so far as possible (may vary with weather) keep entrance doors propped in an open position for arrival and departure to minimise the need for people to touch the door handles, or have doors that can be pushed open with the shoulder.
• Staggering the entering and exiting of the venue should be considered to allow for social distancing measures. Members of the congregation should be asked to ensure that they do not gather immediately outside the door. Congregants need to maintain social distance before they arrive at the place of worship and also when they leave. They should stay well clear of the door to facilitate others leaving the building. They should not congregate in advance of, or after the service. Stewards should be available to assist to ensure compliance with this measure.
• Alcohol-based hand rub should be provided. These should be placed outside of the place of worship for use prior to entry and after exit, and at appropriate points within the space where the religious service is held. ▪ Any spillage of alcohol-based hand rub should be cleaned up immediately to prevent falls.
▪ Alcohol based hand rubs should not be used near heat or a naked flame.
• Toilet facilities need to be regularly cleaned, supplied with liquid soap, and have a working hand dryer or paper towel dispenser.
• Ensure social distancing of 2 metres is maintained during all services/gatherings, including by those leading or contributing to the performance of religious rites.
• Seating /standing places/places for mats should be arranged or marked off to maintain social distancing of 2 metres in all directions. Members of the same household can sit closer together but 2 metre social distancing must be otherwise observed.
• Physical guides such as signs or markings on the floor should be used to ensure persons attending are aware of the distance required to maintain social distancing
• Congregants should wear cloth face coverings or masks during indoor services and ceremonies. A cloth face covering or mask provides better protection than a visor, which should not be used unless there are specific problems with using the cloth face coverings or masks.
• The religious leader should wear a cloth face covering or mask during the service, except when delivering an address e.g. preaching or giving a sermon, and only if she/he is more than 2 metres from any participant.
• Ensure adequate ventilation of any indoor spaces, either through mechanical means (e.g. central air-conditioning unit) or natural ventilation (i.e. opening windows and external doors).
• Communal items, such as religious books or leaflets, should be removed. Members of the congregation should be invited to bring their own religious reading material if required.
• For gatherings that use prayer mats or similar items, members of the congregation should be asked to bring their own prayer mats to avoid sharing of items.
• For religious gatherings that require performance of ablutions before prayer, people should be asked to perform ablutions at home rather than at the place of worship if this is possible.
• Tissues should be provided. At the same time, people should be strongly encouraged to bring their own tissues to services. Provide bins for safe disposal of tissues.
• Ensure hand-washing facilities, including soap dispensers and disposable towels, are well maintained.
Choirs, music groups and other liturgical music
Performance and practice by choirs and musical ensembles has been associated with spread of COVID-19 due to the increased expulsion of droplets associated with singing and wind-blown musical instruments.
Congregational singing, choir singing and carol singing is not permitted, due to the increased risk of spreading virus to others present at the service. Playing musical instruments that are wind-blown should also be avoided.
Playing other instrumental music (e.g. string, percussion) is possible. A risk assessment should be completed before the musicians/ musical group practices and performs during the service. A COVID Officer should oversee strict adherence by musicians and all present to social distance, cloth face coverings or masks and hand hygiene measures, and to raise awareness of the potential risk to members, in particular for vulnerable members.
In addition, adequate and appropriate ventilation measures must be in place before, during and after the instrumental music is played as part of the religious service.
Dual use of religious facilities
Where religious facilities are being used for non-religious purposes outside of normal religious operating times (e.g. community hall for day-care, support groups for those recovering from addiction), the Government guidelines relevant to the activity in question should be consulted to determine what additional measures to those mentioned above should be implemented. The setting should be thoroughly cleaned and ventilated between uses, with at least 15 minutes of fresh outside air circulating in the emptied room before the next activity begins, either by mechanical (e.g. non-recirculating central air conditioning unit) or natural means (i.e. open windows).