Since COVID-19 could be with us for a while yet, your church should take extra care when reopening after lockdowns
Not only does it looks highly likely that COVID-19 isn’t going away quickly – new variants are expected to show up as well. This means that after reopening, churches should continue to take precautions to reduce the risk of virus entry and spread among congregants, workers, and visitors.
Your church should also regularly check what state and federal government rules and restrictions apply and act accordingly. This applies to all places of worship.
The Vic State Government roadmap
The Victorian government has created a four-phase roadmap to deliver the federal National COVID-19 Plan with the final phase expected by 19 November 2021. You may refer to the complete online details by clicking here.
While there are plans for easing of restrictions at each phase, it’s important to note that these measures could change.
In light of the roadmap, here’s an overview of what your church or place of worship should attend to.
1. Review and update your COVIDSafe plan
By now your organisation should have a COVIDSafe plan in place to prevent the entry and spread of the virus. COVIDSafe plans are based on the principles of physical distancing, face-mask wearing, good hygiene practices, record keeping, good ventilation, and reducing indoor interactions.
Your plan must demonstrate the actions your organisation is taking to prevent COVID-19, and how you will prepare for and respond to cases whether suspected or confirmed. You may be inspected by public health officers so it’s important to make sure your COVIDSafe Plan is up-to-date.
For more guidance on creating and updating plans please refer to:
2. Check your church capacity requirements
The two, four, and eight square metre rules for physical distancing are designed to prevent infection and spread by limiting the number of people permitted at a gathering. They also determine the physical distancing that must be maintained.
Once Phase B is reached, religious services and funerals must apply the four-metre rule. Gatherings must also be held outdoors and limited to 50 fully vaccinated people, or 20 people if vaccination status isn’t known.
The same rules apply to weddings, except with a limit of 10 people (rather than 20) where the vaccination status is unknown.
At Phase C the restrictions for services, funerals and weddings will ease further, allowing 150 people indoors (4sqm rule) and 500 outdoors (2sqm rule) for fully vaccinated people. The same limits for unknown vaccination will remain as before. At this point masks will only be required indoors at venues.
When Phase D is reached, the rules will be aligned with the federal government’s National Plan.
Find out more by clicking here.
3. Display signs
Your venue should display signage and QR codes at all public entrances, including for outdoor gatherings. The signage should clearly state what physical distancing and mask rules apply for all attendees.
4. Apply face mask rules
During Phase B masks still need to be worn, outdoors and indoors. This should ease at Phase C when masks are expected to be required indoors only.
Again however, it’s important to check what rules apply as they are subject to change
5. Use check-in records for contact tracing
All attendees, workers and visitors to church should check in using the state government QR code, or through another method such as a sign-in form (which should be stored electronically).
Information on the QR code app can be found here.
6. Practice good cleaning and hygiene
Both cleaning and disinfection of common-touch surfaces (e.g. door handles) is crucial. Common household detergents are fine for wiping surfaces, but commercial grade disinfectants should be used to kill pathogens.
This should be done regularly as a preventative measure, but if there has been a COVID case a deep clean is required – which involves a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the area.
Shared items (e.g. bibles, texts and song books) should be cleaned between uses as well. However, it’s a good idea to encourage attendees to bring their own items rather than using shared ones.
Click here to read more on cleaning and disinfection.
Your church should also promote personal hygiene through hand washing, elbow greetings, coughing or sneezing into elbows, not sharing drinks or utensils and so on. Hand-washing facilities, soap, hand sanitiser, tissues and bins should be provided.
7. Provide good indoor ventilation
Conducting activities outdoors is safer than indoors, but where this isn’t possible you should provide ventilation to reduce recirculated air. This can be done by opening windows and doors to allow air to circulate or through a well-maintained HVAC system.
WorkSafe recommends getting professional guidance regarding HVAC systems to ensure they meet Australian Standards and are operating safely.
8. Use caution when singing
Singing is one of the best ways for viruses to spread! This is because when we sing we breathe more deeply and emit more particles that spread further than normal.
Adhering to physical distancing and masks requirements helps reduce the risk. Other measures you can take include singing outside or in a ventilated room, singing more softly, having short performances only, and avoiding the use of fans.
9. Respond to cases
To reduce exposure you must respond quickly to suspected or confirmed cases in your centre. This includes notifying the Victorian Department of Health of any cases.
People who have been tested for COVID, even those without symptoms, should isolate until they get their test results.
Find out more on responding to cases by clicking here.
Victorian government sector guidance for religion and ceremonies: https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/covidsafe-religion-and-ceremonies-guidance
At Faith Insurance, we are here for the good of the community which puts us in a unique position to understand the specific insurance needs of your church. Please visit our website to read more about us, get a quote on church insurance, review our testimonials or contact us by phone or email.
Written by Tess Oliver at Gold Star Writing