Religious Gatherings

COVID19 Prevention Checklist Industry Guidance

Last updated: Apr 29, 2021

The State of Maine has adopted a multi-layered approach to COVID-19 guidance—supported by science, public health expertise, and industry collaboration—to help Maine businesses and community organizations operate safely. As we enter the second year of the pandemic, these updated guidelines highlight the importance of employing multi-layered mitigation strategies to keep Maine businesses, employees, and residents as safe as possible from COVID-19 transmission. Public health guidance will continue to evolve as we learn which mitigation strategies most effectively reduce transmission risk.

No single measure or action will completely prevent transmission of COVID-19. Use of multiple strategies—sometimes called layered mitigation—provides greater protection than implementing a single strategy alone. When multiple mitigation strategies—including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and ventilation—are consistently and correctly used, risk of transmission is decreased. 

Please make sure you pair this industry-specific guidance with general guidance available at https://www.maine.gov/decd/covid-19-prevention-checklists.

For the latest information on travel policies and Executive Orders related to COVID-19 visit the Office of the Governor’s COVID-19 Response website: https://www.maine.gov/covid19.

Please note: This document may be updated as additional information and resources become available.

Religious Gatherings

The best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to this virus. The primary strategies for reducing risk are physical distancing, masks, hand hygiene, and the cleaning and disinfection of common touch surfaces. Religious organizations should continue to consider offering and promoting the use of online, recorded, drive-in, and outdoor services in lieu of indoor in-person services. Additionally, religious organizations should consider strategies to reduce participant exposure to droplets and aerosolized particles that are emitted with forceful respiratory exhalations that commonly occur when singing, speaking loudly, and playing certain musical instruments.

Staff

The following guidance refers to all staff types, both paid and volunteer.

  • Require staff to wear masks indoors and to practice good hand hygiene with frequent handwashing, especially between contact with other individuals and contact with shared items. (Updated 4/29/21)
  • Where possible, stagger staff and meal breaks to avoid crowding.
  • Ensure staff stay 6 feet apart whenever practical.
  • Adjust seating in break rooms and other common areas to reflect physical distancing practices.
  • Permit staff to take breaks and lunch outside, or in such other areas where physical distancing is attainable.
  • Implement touchless receiving practices if possible.
  • Adjust training/onboarding practices to limit the number of people involved and allow for 6 foot spacing; use virtual/video/audio training when possible.
  • Discourage staff from using colleagues’ phones, desks, workstations, radios, handhelds/wearables, or other work equipment.
  • Request that vendors accessing the premises direct their employees to follow all physical distancing guidelines and health directives issued by the applicable public authorities.
  • Provide staff training on:
    • physical distancing guidelines and expectations
    • monitoring personal health
    • proper wear, removal, disposal of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
    • laundering of cloth masks and uniforms as listed below
    • cleaning protocols as listed below (or per CDC)
    • how to monitor personal health and body temperature at home
    • guidance on how to launder cloth masks and uniforms: see CDC, Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility, How to Disinfect: Laundry
    • cleaning protocol, including how to safely and effectively use cleaning supplies
  • Consider staff training in safe de-escalation techniques.

Building and Operational Considerations

  • The federal CDC has prepared Considerations for Communities of Faith to assist with operational planning and preparation.
  • Gathering limits as further established by the Governor's Executive Order are subject to the following limits:
    • All indoor gathering limits:
      • Effective March 26, 2021 through May 23, 2021: 50% of permitted occupancy or 50 persons (or 5 people per 1,000 square feet for retail establishments), whichever is greater.
      • Effective May 24, 2021 and thereafter: 75% of permitted occupancy or 50 persons (or 5 people per 1,000 square feet for retail establishments), whichever is greater.
    • Any outdoor gathering taking place at a facility or event that is subject to a permitted occupancy limit is subject to the following limits:
      • Effective March 26, 2021 through May 23, 2021: 75% of permitted occupancy.
      • Effective May 24, 2021 and thereafter: 100% of permitted occupancy.
  • Limits on gathering size also apply to other ceremonies and rituals such as weddings and funerals. Additional guidance on funerals is available through the CDC.
  • Place signage at entrances and throughout the facility alerting staff and members to the required occupancy limits, 6 feet of physical distance, and policy on masks. Masks are currently required in indoor public places, per the Governor’s Executive Order. Masks are recommended outdoors when 6 feet of physical distance is difficult to maintain. (Updated 4/29/21)
  • Ensure adequate supplies (e.g., soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, tissue) to support healthy hygiene practices, including increased cleaning and disinfection procedures.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently touched. This may include cleaning objects/surfaces not ordinarily cleaned daily (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, classroom sink handles, countertops). Provide EPA-registered disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (e.g., keyboards, desks, remote controls) can be wiped down.
  • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety risk to employees or members.
  • Indoor services or other activities should be followed by a break before the space is used again to allow the central HVAC system to exchange the air in the space. A minimum of one air exchange (which 20 minutes will generally achieve) prior to the next use of the space is recommended, with three air exchanges preferable.
  • Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains, decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.
  • Ensure that staffing of facilities is enough to enable enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures.
  • Any other individuals or entities that use a faith-based organization’s facilities, such as renters or community organizations, must follow the same gathering size limit, physical distancing, and cleaning and disinfection protocols outlined in this document.
  • Indoor playgrounds should remain closed at this time. Outdoor playgrounds can be used with appropriate care. Post signage advising the use of hand sanitizer both before and after use of the playground and maintaining physical distancing as much as possible.
  • Parents are encouraged to bring children with them to regular services. Nursery/daycare services should refer to the latest childcare guidance from the Maine Office of Child and Family Services. Classes for children, such as Sunday schools, should only operate if physical distancing and masking (when age and developmentally appropriate) can be maintained.
  • Refer to the Day Camps and Summer Recreation Programs checklist for guidance concerning summer programs such as Vacation Bible School.
  • For public health purposes, faith-based organizations should maintain a list of all attendees and visitors to its services and activities, if possible. If a place of worship learns that an attendee or worker has tested positive for COVID-19, they should promptly notify Maine DHHS, CDC, or a local public health official and assist all such officials as reasonably requested to trace likely contacts and advise contacts to isolate and self-quarantine.
  • Based on current scientific knowledge, a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated. An individual is also considered a close contact if they provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19, had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them), shared eating or drinking utensils, or if the person sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on them.
  • Whenever possible, minimize the duration of activities to decrease the risk of transmission.
  • Out-of-state participants must follow the testing and quarantine requirements of the Moving Maine Forward plan.

    Worship Service Guidance

    • Communicate with members and visitors about new protocols and the importance of masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene.
    • Know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Know what to do if staff or members become symptomatic on premises.
    • Attendees should be advised of the symptoms of COVID-19. Places of worship are encouraged to determine a method, such as prominent signage, for reminding them of these symptoms.
    • Persons at high-risk for COVID-19 are encouraged to use online or other remote options to attend services, meetings, and other religious gatherings at this time. High-risk individuals include:
      • People 65 or older
      • People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
        • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
        • People who have serious heart conditions
        • People who are immunocompromised: Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune system weakening medications
        • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
        • People with diabetes
        • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
        • People with liver disease
    • Masks must be worn by all attendees, such as when coming and going, except for children under the age of 2. Please review AAP Guidelines for masks for children. Masks are required indoors and recommended outdoors when 6 feet of physical distance is difficult to maintain. (Updated 4/29/21)
    • Outdoor services are encouraged. Both indoor and outdoor religious gatherings require adherence to physical distancing guidelines.
    • Those living in the same household may sit together without distancing between each other.
    • Seating between households must be at least 6 feet apart. Consider alternating rows of pews or seating.
    • Activities like singing or using a projected voice project respiratory droplets in greater quantity and over greater distance, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, particularly with prolonged exposure. Choirs and communal singing have been associated with COVID-19 outbreaks. There is a significant risk to participants through the increase in aerosolized droplets during singing.
      • All individuals, including vocalists, must wear a mask indoors. Because singing is a higher risk activity, a well-fitting mask is recommended as opposed to a cloth mask. (Updated 4/29/21)
      • Use soloists or small ensembles rather than full choirs, to the extent possible.
      • Maintain physical distancing between performers. Maintain at least 14 feet of separation -- and more if possible -- between congregation members and performers such as vocalists and singers. 
      • Transmission risk increases with the length of singing activity. Consider limiting time of singing activity during services as much as possible.
    • In addition to physical distancing, consider the use of plexiglass barriers to reduce the additional risk of projected respiratory droplets from clergy, cantors, readers, woodwind instruments, and vocal soloists, etc.
    • Consider dismissing worship attendees one row at a time to avoid congestion at exits.
    • Eating and drinking (e.g., post-service refreshments and church suppers) are activities that require removing your mask. Any time individuals are unmasked, physical distancing must be maintained. Refer to the Seated Food and Drink Service checklist for additional guidance.
    • Places of worship are encouraged to modify communal rituals, like taking communion or passing of the peace, to limit contact with others. Consider distributing, where applicable, prepackaged communion or sacraments.
    • Avoid physical contact between attendees, including greeting by shaking hands and hugging.
    • Avoid sharing microphones. Practice hand hygiene before and after touching common touch items from seating and common areas such as envelopes, pens, texts, etc., as these items are challenging to keep clean between uses.
    • Plan ahead for strategies to minimize and limit individuals in small, shared common spaces.
    • All common spaces must be cleaned between multiple session services.
    • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and take steps to improve ventilation in the building.
      • Increase the percentage of outdoor air (e.g., using economizer modes of HVAC operations) potentially as high as 100% (first verify compatibility with HVAC system capabilities for both temperature and humidity control as well as compatibility with outdoor/indoor air quality considerations).
      • Increase total airflow supply to occupied spaces, if possible.
      • Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy.
    • Use natural ventilation (i.e., opening windows if possible and safe to do so) to increase outdoor air dilution of indoor air when environmental conditions and building requirements allow.
    • Consider relocating operations to outdoor spaces or other nontraditional venues that allow for increased airflow, if possible.