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(prepared by Peter Bisset, chair of COVID Response Team)
open music book with blurred background suggesting choir or concertMany churches are starting to receive requests regarding choir singing and concerts. In response to this, the COVID19 Task Group recognizes this will become a local church decision sooner or later, however, we would suggest consideration be given to the following risk assessment when deciding to proceed with any of these activities.

We shall assume at this time the risk of the variant spread is high and it is transmitted as an aerosol. The variant is 1000x more infectious than the original corona virus. As prevention the government has regulated the wearing of masks and social distancing but has not regulated singing or concerts in an indoor space. A maximum of 250 are permitted keeping social distancing in perspective.

The efficiency of N95 masks far exceeds the 40% efficiency of surgical masks and 20 % efficiency of cloth masks. All evidence would indicate that we are safer outdoors in the natural setting where the virus cannot spread easily.

All venues are subject to police intervention and fines if regulations are ignored. Notably, press coverage could be an issue. Liability insurance will not be covered if the law is broken.

Churches have been classified as places of worship by the government. The government has not suggested that churches be authorized as concert venues, so any decision to attempt to define the church as a concert venue is a risk in itself. This would also leave the interpretation perhaps up to the police on concert night.

During the time when Red and Yellow Zones limited churches to 25 /50 and concert halls to 250, why did the government say it was OK for a concert hall to have a large audience and a church only meager attendance? Church folks like to hug —words from Dr Arruda— and be together with friends. Concert folks have their own agendas.

Technically and financially speaking we can compare the design and operation of the typical concert venue versus that of a church sanctuary.

Concert venues

The floor plan typically is a large space, high occupancy, multiple entrances and exits, high ceilings, space in between seating & rows. The HVAC is planned with pressurized supply air, filtration and return air with a fresh air make-up that assures a certain number of complete air changes every hour by the introduction of outside air. Typically, the air distribution is uniform. Modern stages are well ventilated and air conditioned due to the heat load of the lighting. Costs to isolate performers and audience are assumed. The environment is normally a commercial operation, profit centered, with paid ushers to enforce protocols. They are open tor inspection by CNSST and there is a focus on legal compliance- everything to lose if they fail.
Examples: Places des Arts, CEGEP auditoriums, Oscar Peterson Center, Centaur Theatre, Sadye Bronfman Center
Assessment: Risk Low- Medium due to few people in a large venue with excellent ventilation.

Church Venues

Floor Plan contained with pews with minimum spacing, few exits and limited space for performers. Usually a large volume space, no forced air ventilation, no air filtration or purification and a space where natural air flow is unpredictable. Typically, this is a non-commercial venture with limited control by the church over a public audience or the performers. There may be limited investment to adequately isolate or separate performers from the audience. Some studies indicate that in a church separation of 60 feet may not even be adequate. Access to washrooms may pose risk. The Church would assume all legal responsibility as building owner renting out to a tenant whose knowledge of the space would be limited.

Assessment: Risk High to Extreme due to space restraints, inadequate ventilation and limited audience control.

The UCC has stated that it will not control entry to any sanctuary based on whether or not a person is vaccinated.

In summary, this becomes a local church decision at this time taking into consideration the risks involved. As time passes and the COVID variants disappear, the risk will become lower.

[Photo: David Beale – Unsplash]