British Columbia’s top doctor says everyone attending a faith service in the province must wear a mask to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
The province had previously made worshipers exempt from the mask mandate, which requires people to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces.
The exemption will be lifted Tuesday night, making masks mandatory all in attendance, including members of choirs. Masks can be removed for eating and drinking to allow for ceremonial services. Readers and celebrants can remove face coverings if they maintain physical distance.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also said places of worship can operate at full capacity if all participants are fully vaccinated. Otherwise, services are limited to 50 per cent of seated capacity.
“The province, as you know, has a proof of vaccine card available for faith services to use that will allow flexibility for you and your congregations to work with congregants to provide proof of vaccination by other means,” Henry said.
“I know that many faith services have done this already and many faith leaders are working with their own communities to make sure that we have these measures in place to protect people over this period of time.
Henry said the rules are changing because “risk is increasing as we are gathering indoors” and “we tend to go to more faith-based gatherings over these holiday seasons.”
Henry said everyone in B.C. aged five years and older must wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
Henry said additional restrictions in Interior Health will be repealed on Tuesday night as COVID-19 transmission has dropped in the region and hospitalizations have levelled off. Current restrictions that apply throughout the province, including the mask mandate and the order around gatherings and events, will apply to Interior Health.
Restrictions in Northern Health are now set to expire on Jan. 31, 2022. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed and restaurants must end liquor service at 10 p.m. There are still no in-person worship services allowed in the region although drive-in services are permitted.
Restrictions in the Fraser East region will remain in place.
Henry announced Tuesday that the province has recorded its first cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
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