The province is responding to some Manitobans calling the new capacity limit at places of worship "discriminatory."

Worship spaces reopening at a limited capacity have some people on edge, whether they think it is too soon to open or not open enough. 

A group of churches from southern Manitoba have brought forward their argument to the courts regarding how the Public Health Act works. One Winnipeg pastor who calls the reopening plan "codified, systemic discrimination against religious groups" has written a letter to his local MLA.

"We feel the way the government has singled religious and faith-based gatherings out in this last round of restrictions is discriminatory and immoral," Brennan Cattani, Associate Pastor at Ness Avenue Baptist Church and lead planting pastor at Osborne Village Church says.

Manitoba's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal says the orders target the virus, not people.

"I do not think we are discriminating against anyone. This virus does not discriminate against anyone in particular either," Atwal says. 

Over the summer, a religious group faced heavy stigmatization from Manitobans when outbreaks occurred inside of colonies.

christal springs hutterite signThe province was quick to deploy testing teams to communities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks in the summer.

"I know a lot of people feel this is really important to them," Atwal says about reopening worship facilities. "They want that open. They want that open without any restrictions or any inability to do what they like to do or what they used to do in the past."

Atwal says for the time being the risk is too great. The opening plan was a "give and take" situation looking at what can open and at what capacity. In this round, churches were considered too high of a risk.

CHVN has reached out to the province of Manitoba and asked Atwal for instances of COVID-19 positive people entering a place of worship, as there are very few listed on the Public Exposure list since the end of August when facilities were open to worship gatherings. 

Almost every faith-based school in Winnipeg has had at least one exposure to COVID-19 from someone entering the building while being a positive case before moving to online learning.

In November, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that instances of the virus at faith events, including weddings and funerals, were in the double digits. At the time, Roussin said while they have examples of spread at faith-based events, the province will not disclose information regarding COVID-19 exposures unless they believe there is a reason to.

"There have been multiple examples and we have been able to contact trace to disclose the specific situation," he said.

This means while a person may have been COVID-19 positive while at a place of worship, the facility may not be considered an exposure risk.

Comparing restaurants to faith facilities, Atwal says restaurants have the ability to create physical barriers and table distancing. The doctor says in Canada and across the globe, there have been outbreaks directly linked to worship services and are concerned it could occur in Manitoba. Roussin has previously said an outbreak at a care home occurred after someone who attended a religious service brought the virus to the facility.

Over the next three weeks, Atwal says the province will be reevaluating reopening plans.

"We are going to try to do our best to try to get people back to those activities that they enjoy to do want to do, and religious service is one of them."