Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship

Guidance to help places of worship safely re-open for permitted purposes.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship
General principles for safe operation

General principles for safe operation

Those responsible for the management of places of worship must take action to minimise the potential for spreading COVID-19 among worshippers and anyone working/volunteering within the buildings and surrounding grounds.  Those actions include:

Risk assessment

To help decide which actions to take to ensure a safe reopening, a COVID-19 risk assessment should be carried out, in addition to any risk assessment already in place.

You can find guidance on carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment on the Health and Safety Executive website.

Many places of worship are also workplaces and should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers under health and safety law. Places of worship also have a duty of care to volunteers, to ensure that as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Guidance on returning to work provides advice to workers and employers on their rights and obligations.The General Guidance for Safer Workplaces may also be relevant, particularly in relation to managing teams of employees or volunteers.

Those responsible for places of worship should also ensure they update their general emergency procedures to reflect any changes in the number of people attending the place of worship and the types of activities taking place, as protective levels change.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing measures are actions to ensure that adults and young people (12-17 year-olds) from different households remain 2 metres apart, and more generally to reduce the number of people anyone interacts with outside their household. This is a key measure to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19.

Places of worship must take measures to ensure that all individuals, including worshippers, staff members and volunteers, can keep at least 2 metres apart from other individuals whilst they remain in any part of the place of worship’s grounds or premises or when waiting to enter a place of worship. This 2 metre distance does not need to be maintained between people in the same household or extended household group, or between a carer and the person assisted by the carer.

We acknowledge that some people may find physical distancing rules harder to follow than others, for example those with sight loss, autism, learning disabilities and dementia or other communication or mobility needs. Places of worship may wish to consider how their arrangements can support everyone to maintain a safe distance. Everyone should be considerate and give way to others when necessary.

Places of worship must take measures to only admit people to the premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain the 2 metre distance.  They should also display the maximum capacity at entrances, to provide clarity and support compliance.  More detail is provided under Restrictions on capacity.

Places of worship must take measures to only admit people to the premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain the 2 metre distance. More detail is provided under Restrictions on capacity.

Places of worship must take measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons waiting to enter its premises.

Places of worship must also take measures to limit close face-to-face interaction and maintain hygiene safeguards.

The measures detailed above will be required unless they are not reasonably practicable.

To help limit close face-to-face interaction and maintain physical distancing and hygiene safeguards, places of worship should consider measures such as:

  • changing the layout of premises, including the location of furniture
  • removing or cordoning off furniture or fittings, such as seating
  • setting out floor markings in frequently used spaces
  • setting out designated areas where worshippers from different households may stand or sit
  • installing barriers or screens
  • using one-way systems to help minimise physical contact within corridors, doorways, lifts and stairs
  • controlling or restricting the use of shared facilities, such as toilets/washrooms and kitchens
  • putting in place a safe queue management system to ensure the flow of people in and out of the building can be carefully controlled, including the use of separate entrance and exit points where possible (fire exits should not be used for this purpose)
  • communicating clearly information about how to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus and the rules on physical distancing and hygiene safeguards, for example, by using signs
  • ensuring that hand washing or sanitisation facilities with soap and water (or alcohol based hand rub if there is no access to soap and water) is available for people to use before entering (see guidance on this for non-healthcare settings)
  • reviewing the availability of staff/volunteers to ensure there is enough capacity to prepare settings to reopen for permitted purposes and manage them appropriately once they are open
  • where appropriate, the use of personal protective equipment

Whilst they should be avoided wherever possible, very brief interactions within 2 metres such as limited numbers of people passing each other in corridors, are considered to be low risk. Use of floor markings or one-way systems can help to minimise this.

Where interactions within a 2 metre distance are essential for faith-specific requirements, without which practicing or taking up a position within a faith is not possible, these interactions should be brief, kept to a minimum and face-to-face interaction inside 2 metres should be avoided. More detail is provided under individual and congregational worship

It is important to note that the above suggestions are high-level descriptions of potential approaches, and not intended to be used as a checklist.

Cleaning

If a place of worship has been closed for many weeks, or parts of the building have been out of use for a long period, a health and safety check and cleaning should be carried out before reopening in line with wider health and safety considerations.

Cleaning protocols should be put in place to help reduce COVID-19 transmission in places of worship.

Objects and surfaces touched frequently, such as chairs, door handles, light switches, sinks and toilets, should be particular areas of focus for increased cleaning.

All cleaning should be carried out in line with COVID-19: guidance for non-healthcare settings (Health Protection Scotland). This includes advice on cleaning and disinfection if an individual who has attended a place of worship has a possible COVID-19 infection.

In deciding what cleaning arrangements to put in place, places of worship should consider:

  • how frequently cleaning should take place based on assessment of risk and use of the building
  • restricting access to certain parts of the building to reduce cleaning requirements
  • removing unnecessary items to reduce the need for cleaning
  • removing hard to clean items such as any soft furnishings
  • whether worshippers should be asked to clean items they have used themselves before leaving the building, with disinfectant wipes provided.

Hygiene

Places of worship should encourage all staff, volunteers and worshippers to maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene (e.g. for coughs or sneezing), including frequent hand washing/use of alcohol-based hand rub to kill viruses that may be on hands. Regular reminders and signs should be used to help raise awareness of this and closed bins should be made available to ensure that used tissues can be disposed of promptly and safely.

The NHS Inform Coronavirus Communications Toolkit provides a range of posters, leaflets etc that may be helpful. The general Coronavirus information page also includes information in other languages and formats.

Adequate hand hygiene facilities should be available at key areas such as entrances and exits, either soap and water or alcohol based hand rub (see guidance on this for non-healthcare settings).

Good ventilation of places of worship whilst they are in use is  essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in indoor environments. Where possible, doors and windows should be opened. Further advice can be found in the COVID-19 ventilation guidance. Fire doors should remain closed.

Read the guidance on the opening of public toilets, including hygiene measures that should be taken.

Test and Protect

Those responsible for places of worship should familiarise themselves with  NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system  which is designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Places of worship are asked to keep a temporary register of worshipper and staff/volunteer contact details for a period of 21 days for Test and Protect. This is to support contact tracing, in the event of an outbreak linked to a particular venue. Collecting contact details is voluntary at places of worship, but cooperation with Test and Protect measures will be crucial to national efforts to suppress the virus.

Those responsible for places of worship should read the guidance on collection of customer and visitor details, including information on how to collect, store and securely destroy data and on how information may be requested by NHS Scotland and shared by them.

Places of worship should collect the following information, where possible:

Staff/volunteers

  • the names of individuals who work or volunteer at the place of worship
  • a contact phone number for each member of staff/volunteer
  • the dates and times that individuals are at work/volunteering

Worshippers

  • the name of each worshipper
  • a contact phone number for each worshipper
  • date of visit and arrival and, wherever possible, departure time

If data is shared with NHS Scotland on the basis of individuals being identified as at risk of being close contacts by the Test and Protect service, NHS Scotland may need to retain the data for longer than the 21 day period and will hold the data in line with NHS information governance processes.

Read further information about the NHS Scotland information governance arrangements.

Places of worship may also wish to use the Check In Scotland system.  This allows venues to create a QR code poster, which people attending scan with a smart phone and fill in their details online.  Check In Scotland can be used alongside paper-based recording for those who are unable or do not wish to use the app.

Face coverings

Under the Regulations everyone in a place of worship is required to wear a face covering, unless an exemption applies. A face covering under the Regulations  means a covering of any type (other than a face shield) which covers a person’s nose and mouth.

Further advice can be found in the guidance on the use of face coverings.

There is an exemption for a person leading worship or leading a funeral, marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration, if there is a partition between them and any other person, or they maintain a distance of at least two metres from any other person.

 

In all circumstances, those leading acts of worship should consider whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering – see guidance on Individual and Congregational Worship.

Where essential to the act of worship, briefly removing a face covering to consume food or drink is permissible.

There is also an exemption for two people getting married or entering a civil partnership, provided there is either a partition or at least two metres distance between the couple and any other person.

Other examples of exemptions include where a person is:

  • a child under 5
  • unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering, because of any physical or mental illness or impairment or disability, or they cannot wear one without severe distress
  • communicating with a person who has difficulties communicating and relies on lip reading or facial expression to be able to communicate
  • eating or drinking
  • taking medication

The Regulations are very clear, people must wear a face covering unless they are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances which are set out in the Regulations.  However, people who are exempt from wearing a face covering must not be denied access to any space.

In all circumstances, those leading acts of worship should consider whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering – see guidance on Individual and Congregational Worship.

Where essential to the act of worship, briefly removing a face covering to consume food or drink is permissible.

The wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to other precautions including physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

Places of worship may wish to stock spare face coverings, for worshippers who don’t have one.  You may consider including transparent face coverings (to help with communication) and some face shields (which can provide some protection where someone is unable to wear a face covering).

It is not mandatory for those who are exempt to have to prove their exemption.  However, the person can request a free face covering exemption card on 0800 121 6240 or through the exemption card website.  This can help people feel more safe and confident in public and when accessing and using public spaces and services.

Those exempt under the Regulations should not be forced to wear a face covering or denied access to a place of worship.  Anyone who is greeting worshippers or controlling access to the place of worship should be aware of the exemptions and treat people with kindness if asking why someone is not wearing a face covering.

Children

Children under 5 need not be counted in the number of people admitted to the venue. However, where seating is provided for children this should be included for the assessment of physical distance based capacity, even where the children using the seating are expected to be under 5 – see guidance on Restrictions on Capacity

Children under 12 are not required to maintain social distancing with other children or between children and adults.  However, it is still best to limit the number of people they interact with and follow good hygiene practice.  Under 12s should not, for example, go round the room greeting other worshippers on behalf of their family.

Children aged 5 and over must wear face coverings, unless they have an exemption. Only schools and regulated childcare settings are excluded from this requirement. 

Parents or guardians should ensure children maintain appropriate physical distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene whilst they remain in any part of the place of worship’s grounds or premises. General guidance relating to coronavirus and children is available on the ParentClub website.

Any shared facilities for children (play corners, books, toys) which are accessed during indoor activities should be cleaned when groups of children change using standard detergent and disinfectant that are active against viruses and bacteria. Soft toys should be removed, where possible, or washed after use by each child or group of children. Soft play areas and sensory rooms should remain closed. Where possible, outdoor play should be encouraged. Extra care should be taken with hand hygiene immediately before and after using play equipment.

Activities organised for children by the place of worship that are separate from an act of worship (such as out-of-school faith-based education) should follow the Guidance on organised activities for children (unregulated).

Further information to support education, early years and childcare use of places of worship can be found under “Other uses of places of worship”.


First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 29 Apr 2021 -