Manitobans could be heading to a church service as early as late next week.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin is proposing a 10 per cent capacity limit at places of worship, allowing people to gather together in these facilities for the first time in months. The proposed orders would affect the entire province, starting on February 13.
"We do recognize that we want to try to get back to things that people miss, that people love. We have to do it in a cautious way," Roussin says.
Most people permitted in a place of worship at one time will be 50.
Churches in Manitoba have been closed for in-person religious services since November 12. At the time, the province said the temporary closure was a "circuit breaker" meant to halt the spread of COVID-19 due to rapidly increasing cases.
"All of the restrictions were based on the risk of transmission," Roussin says, noting that they feel confident in the slow reopening. "Closed spaces, prolonged indoor contact, that is where the real risk is. So there is a setting, like places of worship, that meet really all three of those criteria."
Roussin compares the risk to retail, which has a 25 per cent capacity limit, saying people who are shopping are walking by each other and not in direct contact for extended periods of time, whereas in places of worship people are sitting for an hour or longer at a time.
"We think the 10 per cent capacity deals with that. We think any grouping within that 10 per cent capacity will have to be households, and then again, we know there are settings just like retail that have a very large capacity and we just do not feel that hundreds of people under the same roof right now is appropriate."
While the risk remains, Roussin says the limited capacity will help reduce that. The doctor is proposing people be seated with only their households, especially considering many households could be at the services.
"We are trying to get back to the things that are important, that are healthy, that people are missing."
Drive-in services continue to be permitted. Facilities offering social services can continue to offer them under the direction of previous orders.
The province is inviting Manitobans to provide feedback before the orders are official.