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Why can B.C. malls exceed 50-person gathering cap, but not churches?

Last Updated Jul 9, 2020 at 11:45 am PDT

An empty Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver (Courtesy YouTube)
Summary

Places of worship in B.C. are subject to 50-person gathering cap

Exceptions made only for large retailers and drive-in events

More than 100 COVID-19 cases linked to German church service

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Question:

Andrik: “When can places of worship open beyond 50 people? If restaurants and theatres can open with protocols in place to support more than 50, why not churches and mosques? If a church has 1000 seats, it should be able to hold services for at least 250 to 500 (25% to 50% of capacity) especially since many attendees are from within the same family circle. There are valuable mental health benefits from this too plus related employment of staff to consider.”

Answer

Mosques, synagogues, churches, temples and other places of worship in B.C. are allowed to open their doors to a maximum of 50 faithful at a time, with physical distancing protocols in place.

While it is true some drive-in events and retail establishments, such as large grocery stores and malls, are allowed to exceed the 50-person cap, theatres and restaurants are not exempt.

“The gathering together of a large number of people in close contact with one another in either an indoor or outdoor place for the purpose of attending an event, including a social gathering, dinner, ceremony, form of worship, convention, rally, parade, fair, demonstration, dance, recital, athletic or sporting event, dramatic or musical performance or watching a movie can promote the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 [the novel coronavirus] and increase the number of people who develop COVID-19,” Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wrote in an order issued to owners and operators of potential gathering places.

At a May 7 press conference, Henry said she did not expect to “see any change with religious gatherings, in that we have restrictions on how many people can be at an event together.”

“If you have a very small church then 50 may be way too many.”
Later that month, Henry referenced an outbreak at a German church “where they were supposedly maintaining their safe distances,” but 107 people linked with a service there caught the coronavirus.

“These are the things that we’re learning from: that there are certain things that we do in a faith-based setting where singing, singing together, chanting can increase our risk of spreading this over larger distances,” she said. “So we need to be mindful of those concerns as we move forward.”

B.C. plans to keep the 50-person gathering cap in place until it enters the fourth and final stage of its restart plan, which won’t happen until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, effective treatment or herd immunity.

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