COVID-19 Information: Places of Worship

Last updated: November 19, 2021

All religious services, rites and ceremonies must adhere to the limits set out under Step Three of the provincial Roadmap to Reopen and Ontario Regulation 364/20: Rules for Areas at Step 3.

For an overview of the measures currently in place, see the Ontario government's COVID-19 public health measures, advice and restrictions webpage. 

Read Huron Perth Public Health's Guidance for Places of Worship [PDF] (also available below). 

HPPH Letter of Instruction 

The Medical Officer of Health has issued a Letter of Instruction (LOI) to owners/operators of organizations that provide religious services, rites or ceremonies and/or operate places of worship in Huron and Perth Counties.

This LOI:

  1. Outlines applicable regulatory requirements pertaining to your place of worship and your faith-based activities under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19)
  2. Requires owners and operators to comply and cooperate with HPPH to complete compliance inspections and/or complaint investigations and/or case and/or outbreak investigations.

Read the entire HPPH Letter of Instruction to owners/operators of organizations that provide religious services, rites or ceremonies and/or operate places of worship in Huron and Perth Counties [PDF].

Guidance for Places of Worship

Faith community leaders/organizers are responsible for preventing the risk of COVID-19 infection among all people who participate in services, events or gatherings (including receptions). They must follow provincial regulations and any local rules that are required by the Medical Officer of Health.

Please use the checklist to guide how your religious services, ceremonies and gatherings can take place safely for all people. Note that this guidance should be followed in any setting where the religious services, ceremonies and gatherings are held (e.g., church, house, other buildings). In addition, the guidance is subject to change at any time.

Workplace Safety Plan 

Open businesses and organizations must prepare and make available a COVID-19 safety plan. A copy of the plan must be made available to Huron Perth Public Health staff for review upon request, and be posted in a visible location where it would come to the attention of adherents and staff. 

The COVID-19 safety plan must describe the measures implemented to reduce the transmission risk of COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Cleaning
  • Screening
  • Physical distancing
  • Vaccine certification (as required or optional depending on the setting and/or gathering)
  • Training and education for all staff to ensure they understand their responsibility to follow public health guidelines to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace

To assist with development of your COVID-19 safety plan, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has created a Workplace Safety Plan Builder

HPPH's Guidance for Places of Worship [PDF] checklist can be used to help create your safety plan to ensure all the COVID-19 prevention measures are in place to keep church members, those attending services, ceremonies, and gatherings, and those who may use your building safe. A COVID-19 safety plan should include how to prevent crowds during a service, event or gathering, and how to mitigate the risk of high-risk activities (e.g. singing, personal interactions).

Screening and record keeping

Screen all individuals, including children, staff and volunteers prior to entry, each day they attend service using the most up to date provincial COVID-19 self-assessment screening tool

  • Let people know that they are not allowed to enter the building if they have ANY symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been told to stay home by public health or a health care provider. 
  • All individuals are asked to complete a COVID-19 screening tool and self-check for any symptoms of illness at home before arriving for a church or worship service, ceremony or gathering. Parents should check children for symptoms. Anyone with symptoms must stay home.
  • Put up signs near entrances telling people not to enter the building if they have ANY symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been told to stay home by public health or a health care provider. Posters can be found on our COVID-19 Information: Workplaces, Employers, Employees webpage. 
  • Active screening is required for all activities not associated with a religious service or ceremony (e.g. social events, receptions). This means that it is your responsibility to ensure that no one enters the building unless it is confirmed they have completed the screening and the result of that screening has indicated that they are allowed to enter. 

Keep an attendance record of all staff, volunteers and visitors. Include name, date, time/event, email address or phone number, and whether they have passed the COVID-19 screening. Personal information collected should be maintained for a period of one month (30 days) and only disclosed when requested by the Medical Officer of Health or a Public Health Inspector under the Health Protection and Promotion Act

Gathering limits and physical distancing 

Wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony:

Social gatherings before or after a service, rite or ceremony:

  • Social gatherings before or after in-person services, including those where food and drink are shared, are subject to provincial gathering limits, and physical distancing as required. Social/event gathering limits are different than the limits permitted for religious services, rites, and ceremonies.
  • For further guidance, review the requirements for social gatherings and meeting and event spaces set out by the Province. 

If your place of worship chooses to implement vaccine and identification certification, then the requirement for capacity limits and physical distancing is removed in some settings. Refer to the Table included in the Letter of Instruction linked at the top of this page for more information on capacity limits, physical distancing and vaccination. If you choose to opt-in for proof of vaccination requirements, it is still recommended for people from different households to physically distance as much as possible.

Indoor capacity based on physical distancing requirements (2 metres from every other person) can be calculated as one person per 2 metres squared (four square metres or 43 square feet) of publicly accessible floor space.

Face coverings/masks 
  • Everyone must wear a mask or face covering that covers their mouth, nose and chin, at all times when indoors attending a place of worship, unless they have a valid exemption as per Ontario Regulation 364/20: Rules for Areas at Step 3. Some people do not need to wear a mask, if they:
    • are younger than 2 years old
    • have a medical condition that inhibits their ability to wear a face covering
    • are unable to put on or remove a mask or face covering without the assistance of another person
    • need to temporarily remove their mask or face covering while in the indoor area, as may be necessary for the purposes of health and safety
    • are receiving accommodations according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 or the Ontario Human Rights Code
    • perform work for the business or organization, are in an area that is not accessible to members of the public, AND are able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres (6 feet) from every other person while in the indoor area.
  • Staff and volunteers must wear personal protective equipment (medical mask and eye protection) indoors when they come within 2 metres of another person who is not wearing a mask/face covering and where there is no impermeable barrier in place. Note: A face shield is not a substitute for a mask.
  • Post signs at entrances and inside the building to remind people about wearing a mask. Posters can be found on our COVID-19 Information: Workplaces, Employers, Employees webpage. 
  • Consider having a supply of masks available for anyone who forgets to bring one with them. 
Cleaning and disinfection 
  • Ensure that there is increased cleaning and disinfection of your building and any equipment that is being used. 
  • Ensure properly stocked and frequently cleaned and disinfected hand wash and/or hand sanitizer stations are made available at the entrance and throughout the facility for everyone to wash/sanitize their hands as required (e.g. prior to sharing/distribution of materials/objects, etc.).
  • Clean and disinfect all high touch surfaces and equipment frequently and when visibly dirty (e.g. toilets, sinks, door handles, railings). It is recommended that such surfaces are cleaned and disinfected twice per day at a minimum while in operation, or following every religious service. 
  • Use only disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) approved by Health Canada and follow the manufacturer’s direction regarding contact time. Maintain cleaning and disinfecting logs. If using a bleach solution, prepare fresh solution daily. Check the expiry dates of products and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

Encourage all individuals to follow proper hand hygiene rules and respiratory etiquette (cough and sneeze manners). 

  • Ask people to wash their hands often, especially after handling shared items. 
  • Ask people to sneeze or cough into their elbow/sleeve or a tissue/handkerchief and to perform hand hygiene after using a tissue.
  • Have alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60-90% alcohol) available at all doorway entrances and exits.
  • Have running water, liquid soap, paper towels, and garbage cans in all washrooms.
Activities before and during services/ceremonies 

Ensure the risk of virus transmission is minimized before, during and after services and ceremonies:

  • For each service/ceremony/gathering/reception, make a list of the names and phone numbers of everyone who attends. Public Health will need this information if someone with COVID-19 attends while they are contagious. This list should be kept for 30 days and provided to Public Health within 24 hours upon request.
  • A person who is speaking during a religious service may choose to remove their mask while they are speaking, only if they are at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from all other people. Where possible, increase spacing to at least 3 metres, and use a microphone instead of speaking loudly. If your speaker wants to remove their mask, a plexiglass or impermeable barrier is strongly recommended.
  • Group singing indoors is not recommended, even though masks are being worn.
    • If singing is part of the service or ceremony, anyone singing should be separated from all others by an impermeable barrier (e.g. plexiglass). Masks must be worn while singing.
    • If an impermeable barrier is not used, anyone singing should be separated from others as much as possible (2 metres or more) not facing each other, and use a soft, quiet tone. 
  • Avoid physical contact, such as shaking hands or hugging. Encourage people to greet each other with a wave, bow or other gesture.
  • Consider suspending or modifying activities that increase the risk of virus transmission (e.g. consider alternative collection options, live streaming services, and using single-use handouts).
  • Where possible, keep windows and doors open to allow for ventilation and increased air flow with outdoor air (weather permitting and if this can be done safely). 
Proof of vaccination 

Proof of vaccination and identification is not required for services and ceremonies; however, your place of worship may choose to require it. Note: This would not apply to services or ceremonies at a private residence. 

  • Faith-based organizations can lift capacity limits for ceremonies associated with wedding, funeral or religious services or rites if they elect to opt-in to requiring proof of vaccination for patrons 12 years of age or older. By opting in, you are not required to limit attendance to the number of people that can physically distance. 
  • During each day when the faith-based organization opts-in to the proof of vaccination requirement, you will need to post a sign at the entrance of the location where the service or ceremony is held notifying people that proof of vaccination is required.
  • All other public health requirements (e.g. masking, screening) must continue to be followed.

Where social gatherings and receptions are held at your place of worship or another indoor building or structure, proof of vaccination is required under Schedule 1, section 2.1(2) of Ontario Regulation 364/20. This includes all social gatherings and receptions, except those associated with a funeral. 

Virtual services
  • During the pandemic, there have been multiple COVID-19 outbreaks linked to weddings and funeral receptions.
  • Keep religious gatherings as short as possible, and limit the number of people.
  • Huron Perth Public Health strongly encourages virtual or outdoor options to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For individuals who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19, recommend that they take part in virtual or drive-in services, or consider offering a dedicated service for them, to ensure that everyone can participate safely. 

Frequently asked questions

Can food and refreshments be served at gatherings, or meetings/events held in places of worship? Are there any specific measures that should be in place for serving food? 
Food and refreshments are permitted to be served at gatherings and/or events, and indoor dining is permitted with restrictions. Any time that food is served, Ontario’s guidance for Restaurant and food services health and safety during COVID-19 must be followed. 
If congregants are seated and are physically distanced, can they remove their mask while they listen? 

Masks or face coverings must be worn at all times in indoor public settings (including places of worship). Physical distancing of two metres between people not from the same household is still required.

Masks should only be removed indoors for the purpose of eating or drinking. It is important to keep in mind that this will carry more risk with it, but this is an attempt to try and find a balance between allowing more of these activities to resume while mitigating risk as much as possible.  

Is a clear divider required between the pulpit and the congregation during the service? 

All individuals must maintain at least 2 metres distance from one another during the service. If physical distancing cannot be maintained, a plexiglass or other impermeable barrier is required. If space permits, space participants more than 2 metres.

There is a risk with barriers that they may also trap air, so taking ventilation into consideration is another good idea to help reduce transmission in indoor settings. You may want to consider updating your HVAC system if that hasn’t been done in a while and consider opening a window during the service to keep air flowing as well. See Health Canada’s COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic for more information.  

Can we resume child care/children’s programming? 
Any unlicensed child care and children’s programming must operate in a manner consistent with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Day Camps (e.g. cohorting, masking, room separation for different cohorts, etc.). See HPPH’s COVID-19 Information: Child Care page for additional information. 
Can shared/reusable items (e.g. hymnals, bibles, bulletins) be used during services? Can collection be taken as usual? 

Yes. However, single-use items should be considered and used where possible. While the risk of COVID-19 transmission through touching surfaces is low, it does occur. It is important to continue to follow infection control measures to reduce the various ways in which COVID-19 is spread. This includes appropriate cleaning and disinfection, as well as proper hand hygiene, masking, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, and immunization.

Consider alternative collection options such as a secure drop-box or touch-less offerings. If collection is taken as usual, ensure that appropriate hand hygiene measures are in place. Always consider where you can decrease risk and avoid higher risk activities that involve several people together indoors, in crowded spaces.  

How frequently should equipment and surfaces be cleaned? 

In addition to routine cleaning and disinfection, surfaces that are frequently touched with hands (e.g. door handles, chairs, restrooms, etc.) should be cleaned and disinfected as frequently as necessary to maintain a sanitary condition, as well as when visibly dirty. It is recommended that such surfaces are cleaned and disinfected following every service.

Any equipment used by staff/visitors must be cleaned and disinfected between use and as frequently as necessary (e.g. microphones, phones, etc.). Only use disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) that are approved by Health Canada, and only use cleaning products that are intended for the object. More guidance on cleaning and disinfection is provided by Health Canada and Public Health Ontario.

Is the speaker at the front of the church allowed to choose to be unmasked during the service? 

Everyone must wear a mask at all times when indoors attending a place of worship. The only exceptions are anyone who:

  • Is younger than two years of age
  • Has a medical condition that inhibits their ability to wear a mask or face covering
  • Is unable to put on or remove a mask or face covering without the assistance of another person
  • Needs to temporarily remove their mask or face covering while in the indoor area, as may be necessary for the purposes of health and safety
  • Is being reasonably accommodated in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005)
  • Performs work for the business or organization, is in an area that is not accessible to members of the public, AND is able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres (6 feet) from every other person while in the indoor area.

This last point may allow priests, ministers or other worship leaders to remove their mask during the mass (or service) when preaching to the congregation from a lectern or pulpit, so long as the area is separated by at least two metres from other people. Where possible, increase spacing to at least 3 metres, and use a microphone instead of speaking loudly. If your speaker wants to remove their mask, a plexiglass or impermeable barrier is strongly recommended. 

The priest, minister or worship leader must wear a mask when greeting people as they come in or leave the place of worship, and during communion.

If singing is permitted, do those singing need to wear a mask and be positioned as far away as possible from others? 
Yes, if live singing is performed, the performers/vocalist must maintain a physical distance of at least 2 metres (6 feet) from all others and wear a mask. Where possible, increase spacing to at least 3 metres, and use a microphone instead of speaking loudly.

Additional resources

See additional resources on our COVID-19 Response Resources page.