The physical nature of in-person worship gatherings is the root reason for continued closures.

Churches and other places of worship, under the proposed new Public Health Orders, will not be reopening for public gatherings. Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal says the reason for this is the close nature of the activities.

"Having a lot of people in an enclosed environment, indoor environment, it is hard to physically distance or some people would be less inclined to distance, it poses risk," he says.

A survey sent out by the province collecting public opinion on reopenings found half of Manitobans said in-person faith-based gatherings are not or not at all important to reopen. Additionally, 29 per cent said it was somewhat or very important.

"There are some priorities and we just cannot open everything up either."

The doctor says that they have always known there was a risk, but at this point, the risk is too high to reopen. He says low-risk activities are the ones being considered for a reopening. He is asking Manitobans to follow the spirit of the orders. 

In November, Cameron Friesen, who was the Health Minister at the time, asked Manitobans to ask themselves "how can they be the church."

Atwal says that while public opinion is very important to public health, they have seen instances of faith gatherings being super-spreaders for COVID-19.

"We know that we have had super-spreader events happen because of places of worship." 

In November, Dr. Brent Roussin, the Chief Public Health Officer, said the number of instances where COVID-19 spread at faith gatherings was in the double digits.

An outbreak at a care home in the fall occurred after the virus was contracted at a place of worship, bringing it back to the home. Atwal says the province has seen spread occur in Manitoba. They additionally have observed how COVID-19 spreads at faith gatherings across the country and world. 

Atwal says it is too soon to speculate when in-person faith gatherings will occur. If the changes are put into law, it will be three weeks before they expire.

Churches can continue to offer social services inside the building. Drive-in style worship gatherings continue to be allowed.

"I think every bit of information we have takes and plays a role in where we make our recommendations in taking those orders," Atwal says.

Manitobans can continue to voice their opinion on the proposed changes in the second survey.