Churches to resume in-house worship this week – Holness 

The island’s churches that have closed their doors since March, when gatherings were restricted to no more than 10 persons as part of the government’s efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), will be allowed to resume in-house worship activities as of Saturday, May 16, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced.

Holness made the announcement on Monday during a Jamaica House press conference as he gave an update on the Government’s efforts in the battle against the coronavirus.

He said the measures will be reviewed after two weeks.

“We will observe how faithfully they are being implemented, and if it works, then we will have them as a permanent feature in the gazette,” the prime minister said.

He said that “effective Saturday, May 16, 2020, churches may resume (worship activity) within a context agreed with the faith-based community”.

But, houses of worship must practice physical distancing rules that will apply within the worship space. The prime minister said a ratio of square footage to person will be maintained; that is one person per 40 square feet. This approximates to worshippers being at least arms-length distance apart from each other and will determine the number of persons who will be allowed within the church space at any one time.

By way of example, a church hall of 1,000 square feet would accommodate roughly 20 persons.

And, the prime minister said all persons inside the church hall must wear a mask. Additionally, there must also be a programme of sanitization in place, meaning that hand sanitization stations must be placed strategically throughout the building.

Among other requirements, churches must conduct temperature checks on entry and social distancing rules of persons being six feet apart will continue to apply throughout other areas of the facility, including the churchyard, vestry and pastor’s office. In any area outside the church hall, no more than 10 persons will be allowed to congregate at any given time.

Holness said that having met with church leaders last Friday, the issue of them having more than one service per day was discussed. He said they are also asked to consider shortening the length of the service.

He said: “They should ensure that there should be no overlapping of the service so that one congregation comes in for a particular service, they leave, give enough time so that they can sanitise the church hall and then another congregation comes in for their second service or how many services they wish to have”.

During the two-week trial period, no choirs are to be assembled. Also, other rituals and practices that would require close contact of worshippers are discouraged during this trial phase. These include peace greetings, including hugging.

Churches are also advised to turn off their air-conditioning and instead open windows and doors during worship sessions.

“I know that the church is eager to get back to the normal way of worship but I think we have to be cautious in how we do this and if they have been as faithful and responsible in how they have conducted themselves during the initial period of the outbreak…we are confident (it will work and we) will be monitoring it very closely…,” said Holness.