Province releases reopening guidelines for places of worship, child care

Vigil attendees, including Deputy Mayor Don Cody (front right) and Coun. Charlene Miller (to his right) listen Tuesday (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The province has released revised guidelines for the third phase of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan, including guidelines for child care and places of worship.

The updated version of the plan was released on May 29. Phase three, which is set for June 8, will allow remaining personal services such as estheticians and tattoo artists to resume services. It will also allow gyms, child care facilities and places of worship to open with some restrictions, as well as re-opening restaurants and bars at 50 per cent capacity. The size of public and private gatherings will also increase to 15 people indoors or 30 outside.

Guidelines for child care include encouraging younger children to minimize physical contact and introducing games that teach principles such as staying two arm lengths apart.

Greetings like hugs and handshakes are to be discouraged, and reduced contact activities, such as shadow tag, should be planned. The province acknowledged that it could be difficult to keep young children socially distanced, so the focus should instead be on keeping them from coming into physical contact with each other.

As for places of worship, social distancing is required between households and the maximum number of people allowed will be one-third of the building’s occupancy rate, to a maximum of 30 people.

Delivering services remotely is encouraged and those who are medically vulnerable are “strongly encouraged” to delay their return to services.

Directional flows through buildings should be indicated and all ancillary events, such as socials. should be postponed for the immediate future. Places of worship will be required to increase cleaning and disinfection and encourage everyone to wash their hands often.

Microphones cannot be shared and neither singing nor the use of brass or woodwind instruments is recommended at this time.

The celebration of communion must be done under different protocols or avoided altogether and the passing of offering baskets will not be permitted. Books and other common-use items should be removed from use.

 A letter signed by leaders of multiple faith communities was sent to the premier on May 14 requesting that the reopening plan take houses of worship into consideration.

The letter noted that faith communities stopped gathering physically when the pandemic began, but extended time away from their places of worship could prove detrimental.

“The ministries that we provide are vitally important for the health and well-being of the people of Saskatchewan,” the letter read.

“While we quickly closed our doors to physical gatherings … we swiftly moved our activities online and continued to provide spiritual support and encouragement to the people of Saskatchewan in all kinds of safe and creative ways.

Still, the health and vitality of our religious communities will be hampered by an extended period of being unable to gather physically.”

During a media update this week, the province indicated its business response team was working with faith groups to set out guidelines for reopening.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said earlier this week that guidelines would be released to allow places of worship to open.

Friday, that same group of faith leaders thanked the government for working with them to develop plans to reopen.

“We are extremely thankful for the professionalism and commitment of these public servants” they wrote.

“A robust and fruitful dialogue has produced guidelines that have been submitted for approval of the relevant health authorities.”

The statement went on to say that the guidelines represent the “minimum” each community is expected to take.

“No community should resume public worship until they are ready,” the leaders wrote.

“We have been assured that the provisions … will be adjusted as further experience commends. Guidelines addressing other aspects of worship and community life within our faith communities will be added in the coming weeks.”

The letter and subsequent statement were signed by representatives of the province’s Catholic, Presbyterian, United, Anglican, Pentecostal, Jewish, Muslim and Christian Missionary Alliance communities on behalf of the faith leaders’ working group.

— with files from Jason Kerr