Province increases limits of people allowed at graduations, religious services

Date for the first part of Phase 4 expected early next week

Graduates stand at the École St. Mary High School ceremony in 2019. (Herald file photo)

The province announced on Thursday that it’s increasing the number of people allowed at worship and graduation ceremonies to a maximum of 150 or one third of the seating capacity, whichever is less.

The move is effective as part of Phase 3.

Although a date hasn’t been set yet for the first part of the fourth phase, the provincial government released new guidelines on Thursday. It expects to announce the date early next week.

While the cap on these gatherings is increasing, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said everyone involved must continue to follow public health measures. This includes physical distancing.

Shahab said organizers of larger events should separate groups of about 30 people “so that in case there is an issue, it’s limited.”

“We are going back to larger and larger events, but we don’t want to go back to what we saw in March. We want to go forward in a way that we can minimize the risk of transmission happening,” he said.

With this, it’s important not to gather too frequently and meet with the same people.

The guidelines for worship services include celebrations of life, weddings and other outdoor ceremonies.

As for graduation ceremonies, the government continues to encourage virtual celebrations as the safest solution, drive-in celebrations and outdoor celebrations.

“Outdoor activities are far safer and have less risk of community transmission, but again, there is still risk. So we all need to keep doing our part to keep ourselves and our family and our friends and neighbours as safe as possible,” added Deputy Premier Gord Wyant.

Outdoor graduation ceremonies will be allowed a maximum of 30 graduates per class and 150 people altogether, including graduates, their guests and staff. Schools with larger classes can have multiple ceremonies.

In a news conference on Thursday, both Shahab and Wyant explained why the government is allowing such a large jump for these types of gatherings. Currently, Phase 3 allows 15 people to gather indoors and 30 people outdoors.

“I think what is important is that we look at some key principles,” said Shahab.

“How much does (the space) allow? And then we put some limits. A cap of 150 or 30 per cent, whichever is lower for places of worship, and then who is going there? Is it an older demographic with risk factors or a younger demographic that’s going to a graduation event?” he said.

“What is happening there? We know there’s social interactions with food, close mingling are more riskier than social interactions where you can maintain physical distancing, so certainly for worship services and graduation events, at the moment, our recommendations do promote physical distancing between cohorts of 30.”

Wyant said the province has been consulting with faith leaders across the province through the Business Response Team.

He said places of worship are usually fairly large, allowing households to distance from one another.

“(Faith leaders have) been hearing from their constituents about the need for them to express their religious faith through ceremony and that was causing some difficulty for a number of their parishioners, a number of people within their parishes or mosques, and that’s really where the conversation generated from,” said Wyant.

The first part of Phase 4 will include the reopening of child and youth camps, outdoor pools and splash pads and outdoor sports and activities, both individual and group. While sports activities will be able to resume, there will be no tournaments, interprovincial travel or handshakes.

The second part of Phase 4 includes indoor pools, indoor rinks, libraries, museums, galleries, movie theatres, casinos and bingo halls.

Phase 3 began on Monday, allowing restaurants, fitness facilities, childcare facilities, places of worship and the remaining personal services that didn’t open in the previous phase.

The remaining parks and playgrounds, as well as beaches, reopen on Friday.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to indicate that attendance caps on religious and graduation ceremonies have been increased as part of Phase 3, not Phase 4. The Herald regrets the error.