Just as many of us hoped that the Covid-19 pandemic was passing, a second wave seemed to appear on the horizon. For many of us the lockdown of a few months appeared in our minds as something more like an eon! And now we are faced with further situations!
Churches and other places of worship faced the challenge by introducing on-line services. Universally, just about every church, school and organisation ventured into the world of video conferencing which many had never used previously. The American founded Zoom software surfaced to its most highly international prominence ever in its nine-year history. Not surprisingly, the financial markets recently reported that the Zoom company profits escalated well beyond any expectations prior to lockdown.
And now, as here at the MEN (Maintenance and Equipment News for Churches and Schools) office we are preparing to go to press, schools are re-opening and, although some churches have already re-opened, many places of worship have yet to do so. To assist those now planning to re-open, Eric Thorn has supplied a brief review of H. M. Government’s guidance and requirements. Please bear in mind that this article reflects Eric’s personal understanding of the English regulations which may vary in different countries. Please check the requirements to ensure you are following the correct procedures for your venue.
In recent weeks, many retail shops and other businesses have been displaying this notice on their doors: Come In, we are open!
It would be grand to observe a similar sign outside churches and other places of worship, of all denominations and beliefs, who were obliged to temporarily close in early 2020 when the Covid-19 epidemic hit hard and brought about an unprecedented lockdown. Despite the threat of a second wave, the good news is that several churches have already re-opened, but I am advised that many have yet to do so.
Now, it so happens that I have been approached by some chapels requesting advice on how to put into practice the requirements for re-opening. Queries that have been put to me, for example, are important issues such as where to obtain relevant signage, sanitising hand gel, face masks and so on. At the close of the feature, I provide details for such supplies.
But first, a peek at some of the most important notes from the U.K. Government’s legal specifications.
The legal bit
To see for yourself the full extent of the legal requirements, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic-from-4-july. Please also check for the latest updates on https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic-from-4-july/special-religious-services-and-gatherings-covid-19-checklist.
Before any place of worship is re-opened, for any reason, the legislation requires that a risk assessment has been undertaken. Guidance for embarking on a risk assessment together with a suitable template will be found here.
There are special legal restrictions on the use of so-called shared items:
- Individuals should be prevented from touching or kissing objects that are handled communally. Barriers and/or clear signage should be put in place where necessary to avoid this taking place.
- Individuals should also avoid touching property belonging to others such as shoes which, if removed, should be placed and collected by their owner while adhering to social distancing principles.
- Reusable and communal resources such as prayer mats, service sheets, religious texts or devotional material must be removed from use. Single use alternatives may be provided on condition that they are removed and disposed of by the worshipper. Effectively this means no Bibles, hymn books, service books, and so on.
- Items owned by the individual to aid worship such as a prayer mat or religious text, may be brought in but must be removed again by the worshipper.
There are special restrictions on music and singing:
- Activities such as singing, chanting, shouting and/or playing of instruments that are blown into should be specifically avoided by congregations/worshippers. This is because there is a possible additional risk of transmission in environments where individuals are singing or chanting as a group, and this applies even if social distancing is being observed or face coverings are used.
- Therefore, spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.
Other special restrictions include:
- Those leading worship should remind congregants of the importance of social distancing and hygiene.
- Introducing a one-way flow in and out of the premises with appropriate floor markings or signage, with restrictions on accessing non-essential areas. At the end of worship, this could include worshippers leaving one row at a time, in order to prevent crowding at entry or exit points.
- Clear signposting and assistance should be provided to guide worshippers and to avoid congestion.
- Consideration should be given for prioritisation to people who may have a specific need or requirement.
- Use screens, barriers or alternative rooms and spaces to separate worshippers.
- Any changes to entrances, exits and queues should take into account reasonable adjustments to accommodate those who need them, such as worshippers with physical disabilities.
- Introduce a booking system (eg, Eventbrite) to help with managing numbers, particularly for services where demand will be high.
- Places of worship should limit the number of people in any one location, and in particular avoid any risk of crowding at entry/exit points.
- Consider how well ventilated the venue is and improve this where possible, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate.
- Everyone should follow the guidance on hand hygiene: Wash your hands more often than usual, for twenty (20) seconds using soap and water and/or hand sanitiser, particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose, or after being in public areas.
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or the crook of your sleeved arm (not your hands) if you do not have a tissue. Throw the tissue away hygienically immediately afterwards. Then wash your hands thoroughly for at least twenty (20) seconds using soap and water or hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available.
On both entering and leaving a place of worship everyone, including staff, should be asked to wash their hands thoroughly for at least twenty (20) seconds using soap and water or to use hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available.
There should be signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into the crook of your sleeved arm if a tissue is not available.
All places of worship, irrespective of religion, should provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to toilet facilities.
Toilets inside or linked to places of worship should be kept open and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Steps that will usually be needed to make the use of toilets as safe as possible:
- Display signs and posters.
- Using social distancing marking in areas where queues normally form, and the adoption of a limited entry approach, with one in, one out (whilst avoiding the creation of additional bottlenecks).
- Hand sanitiser should be available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable handwashing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand dryers) are available. Communal towels should be removed and replaced with single use paper towels.
- Keep the facilities well ventilated, for example by fixing doors open where appropriate and safe to do so.
Face covering (Mask)
Face coverings are largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19). The legislation pertaining to face coverings although similar is not identical universally. The information that follows is based on the law in England, so please check the government web sites for your country to ensure you have the legislation as it applies to you.
In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings (a list of examples for each is included in the brackets):
- public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses)
- transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
- shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
- shopping centres (malls and indoor markets)
- auction houses
- premises providing professional, legal or financial services (post offices, banks, building societies, high street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses)
- premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours)
- premises providing veterinary services
- visitor attractions and entertainment venues (museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, aquariums, indoor zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, indoor sports stadiums, funfairs, theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft play areas)
- libraries and public reading rooms
- places of worship
- funeral service providers (funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels)
- community centres, youth centres and social clubs
- exhibition halls and conference centres
- public areas in hotels and hostels
- storage and distribution facilities.
All are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until leaving unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.
How to wear a face covering (Mask)
In order to be effective, please note that a face covering should:
- cover the nose and mouth while allowing the wearer to breathe comfortably
- fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
- be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
- be made of a material that is comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
- ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used)
- unless disposable, it should be washable and dried without causing it to be damaged
- wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for twenty (20) seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on.
When removing a face covering:
- only handle the straps, ties or clips
- do not give it to someone else to use
- if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
- if reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed.
Early in this missive, I mentioned that I had been asked by various chapels and others about resources pertinent to the re-opening of places of worship. I indicated that I would share the relevant details that I have.
Signs and notices featured prominently in enquiries received by me. Many comments focussed on the fact that stock signs available from differing outlets are suitable for common situations, but very often they did not cover all circumstances.
This was also my experience; I resorted to designing and printing out my own tailor made signs which I laminated for installation.
It is not difficult to do this using programs such as those that come with the Microsoft® Office suite. These, and most of their competitors, include a raft of ready made templates that may be used to get started.
Work out what the wording should be, bearing in mind that the smaller number of words the better as signs are designed to be read instantly. If pictograms are required, eg, arrows to indicate the direction for one way routing, do an online search for arrows, then select and download the arrow of choice.
A Public Health England poster can be downloaded from their coronavirus resources page.
Face Masks can be purchased online from Medisave.
Sanitising wipes, hand gel, gel dispensers, sanitiser spray, and so on, can all be obtained online from www.glsed.co.uk.
You may also be interested in an article in the Maintenance & Equipment News for Churches and Schools Autumn 2020 edition on page 28 where I take a closer look at using Zoom to attend events and meetings.
Eric A. Thorn