SOPs for conducting worship services during the covid-19 pandemic |16 April 2021
Dr Anne Gabriel, spokesperson of the working group for the reopening of religious activities, has given an overview of the measures in place for such activities.
“Since the government has lifted the closure of premises for worship, arrangements are being made so that when worship services start again, the minister and worshippers are not exposed to unnecessary risk. While all necessary public health precautions are being taken, worshippers must understand that as in any public space, they have to observe these measures to reduce the risk of infection. The SOPs are for worship services ONLY. Other SOPs will be developed for other services/celebrations/rituals (e.g. baptisms, weddings, confirmation, home visits, last rites and funerals).”
“The aim of all these regulations is to have safe religious activities around Seychelles,” Dr Gabriel said, noting that the minister/celebrant has to take responsibility for ensuring that everyone follows SOPs at all times.
A focal person should be appointed, assisted by a team of persons, to oversee implementation of SOPs.
“Calculate the maximum number of worshippers allowed based on the space available; ensure the place of worship is assessed by public health officers prior to reopening to ensure compliance with public health regulations and maintain a register of worshippers and helpers,” noted Dr Gabriel.
At the entrance
At any religious centre/church or place an area should be designated where worshippers can wait, at least 1.5 metres apart; have ground markings 1.5 metres apart showing where to stand; appoint ushers to regulate flow, ensure people follow directions and avoid crowding; keep doors propped open and clearly label all entry and exit points.
A registration desk should be set up and everyone should wash/sanitise hands, get temperature taken and register personal information [name, address, telephone, temperature].
Anybody with a temperature of 37.5ºC or above is set aside for re-checking. If still above 37.5ºC, the person should be handed to the Health and Emergency Response team for isolation
Risk communication & face masks
Place educational and instructional materials at the entrance and other areas. Make sure that everyone has a mask and puts it on properly. Any worshipper without a mask is turned away to get one, without any exception. For the order of service, project it on a screen; if a booklet is used, allow one person to hand out and do not allow worshippers to pick up the leaflet/booklet from a stack.
Inform and remind worshippers at every gathering that they should not attend if they: have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past 14 days; have any symptoms of Covid-19 (fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhoea, loss of smell and taste, etc…), even if mild or if they are on quarantine or awaiting contact tracing.
Hygiene and sanitation
Ensure availability of running water at all entry points and toilets for hand washing and provide soap where hand washing is required. Where there is no water, provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers and have sanitisers available at entry points, aisle, pulpits and altar. It is highly recommended to not touch the microphones.
Dr Gabriel encourages worshippers to use the washroom at home and if the organisation/group allow people to use washrooms, leave the main door open. Ensure there is running water, toilet paper, soap bins in the wash rooms at all times and ensure the wash rooms are kept clean at all times.
Cleaning and disinfection
The place of worship should be cleaned and disinfected between services using approved guidelines. Keep a checklist of what needs to be cleaned and when it was cleaned.
All seats must have a number and seats must be set 1.5 metres apart on each side. Use alternate pews if required to ascertain physical distancing. Worshippers should wear a face mask at all times and masks may be only temporarily removed when receiving holy communion/ the Lord’s Supper. Worshippers should NOT move seats
Limit worship to one hour; keep teachings/songs short. Maintain non-touch practices e.g. greeting of peace, offertory, communion, etc. Remind people and ensure they follow procedures for taking off and putting on masks during communion/Lord’s Supper. Have no or smaller choirs, with rotations of members and consider musical instruments as extensions of persons in calculating physical distancing
Donations and offerings
Online giving should be encouraged or open offertory boxes/baskets should be placed to accept donations and offerings.
At the Exit
Ushers must guide people on exit procedures, row by row, if possible and at the end of worship, remind worshippers to maintain physical distancing during and after exit. Face masks should be kept and worshippers should be reminded to drop off offerings if not already done so.
Health and emergency response
A team of trained personnel should be appointed to attend to medical emergencies and patients who show Covid-like symptoms and a room/an area should be designated where worshippers with fever are isolated and observed and provide the Emergency team with the MOH Emergency numbers to call if necessary, for an emergency, call 151.
The following activities are still suspended: Hand shaking, kissing, hugging and other bodily contacts; touching and kissing of devotional objects; sharing hymn books, altar books, prayer mats etc and gatherings and sharing of refreshments / meals, including fun fairs.
Health announcements should be made at the beginning and end of services. Multiple services due to the limited number of people allowed per service and a maximum number of people per service depending on building size. All religious organisations need SOPs for celebrations, gatherings, meetings and children’s activities. There should be health screening at entry points, Seat numbers, smaller or no choirs, more posters sensitising about Covid-19, ushers to guide on procedures, Remote rehearsals and meetings if possible and wearing of face masks by EVERYONE: minister, helpers and worshippers AT ALL TIMES.
“Everyone over 2 years of age wears a facemask at all times and only removes it to receive Holy Communion before putting it back on. Wear a mask correctly and consistently, even after being vaccinated”, urged Dr. Gabriel.
For all activities associated with the church and any other faith based organisations, like children classes etc, the same SOPs should be respected.
All worshippers are urged to learn about the new measures put in place for all rituals/traditions and prayer sessions organised by their church/groups to be more familiar with.
“Love your neighbour...wear a face mask,” concluded Dr Gabriel.