Government has made changes to the initial COVID-19 restrictions issued for the June 1st reopening of churches.
Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, announced the adjustments on Friday evening as he addressed a press conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, stating that they would immediately take effect.
Noting that there had been consultations with church leaders from June 1 to 3, the Minister pointed out that among the considerations informing Government’s decisions were issues of: keeping people safe; maintaining physical distance; avoiding physical contact with large numbers in enclosed spaces, and related-issues of air flow.
Additionally, he pointed out that some of the previous protocols in the initial June 1st directive were suspended; others are now clarified while still others are subject to further discussion with the health authorities.
The new measures will now allow for communion, considered a central ritual of Christians, to take place once there is no physical contact between worshippers or between officiant and worshipper.
They will also allow for the streaming of services to continue with the distancing and masking protocols applied since, according to Minister Jordan, not all places of worship intend to open for congregants generally to come to the place of worship. “Many of them want to continue the streaming,” he added.
Masks can now be removed when ministering but a 12-foot distance must be maintained. Of this particular measure, Mr. Jordan said: “I am announcing that masks can be removed while persons are ministering in places of worship so that when the reader is reading the lesson or prayer that person can do it after removing their mask. We know that some persons will keep theirs on but we are allowing persons to remove their masks when they do that.”
A person who is singing can also remove their mask; however, there must also be a 12-foot distance in this regard.
Acknowledging that the matter of singing was a concern not only for Barbados, the Minister stated it had to do with the fact that there is still uncertainty over how far droplets go; whether or not the virus is spread only in droplets; or whether there is some aerosol capacity. “And, so for persons who are ministering we want to have an increased distance,” he stressed.
While clarifying that persons, aged 70 years and older, could attend regular services, Mr. Jordan said in the initial directive there was no prohibition on persons 70 years or older attending services, but some misunderstanding.
“The misunderstanding came because we specifically identified that places of worship were free to have special services if they wanted only persons 70 years and older to attend together, to keep them away from the larger congregation,” he explained.
Some of the other changes are:
- The actual recording of temperatures has now been suspended but a person’s temperature would still be checked on entry to churches and individuals must be told of their temperatures;
- The recording of congregants for contact tracing is to take whatever method a church deems fit. The information will only be used if contact tracing becomes necessary;
- Only contactless hand dryers in bathrooms are recommended but where these are not available paper towels should be used;
- Air conditioning systems may also be used, once airflow in and out of the church is addressed. It can also be used in church offices with the protocol of maintaining physical distance applied.
Church-goers are also being urged to carry their own [electronic] devices, bibles and hymnals, as none is to be distributed or shared.
Summing up his thoughts on the consultations, the Social Partnership Minister stressed he was satisfied that faith-based leaders were happy to have input on the protocols and to understand that government was willing to listen to them and put the proposals under rigorous tests by the Health Ministry.
“I have committed to them that this Government, after the next directive is issued, will again come back to them to consult further. We recognize the role of faith-based organizations and we’ve always placed them high on our agenda. We will keep the dialogue going with faith leaders,” he maintained.