Doctors call on Manitoba to suspend in-person worship services

WINNIPEG — Some doctors are calling on the province to suspend in-person worship services with Winnipeg at the critical or red level on Manitoba’s pandemic response system.

Services are currently still allowed to take place with reduced attendance despite high case counts and links to the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t think they should be open to the general public,” said Dr. Glen Drobot, a practicing Catholic who takes part in Mass services online. “I think we need to keep those numbers as low as possible.”

High case counts are putting pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.

In a recent letter to Premier Brian Pallister dozens of doctors, including Drobot, called on the government to review the decision to allow worship services to continue under code red.

Drobot said only people required to live stream services should be allowed to attend.

“I hope that we would only have to do this for a short period of time but I think we need to do it now,” said Drobot. “I think now is the time to act and perhaps if things improve, maybe we’ll be able to have some reopening before the holidays coming in December.”

Under the critical restrictions currently in place for the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, attendance at faith-based gatherings is currently capped at 15 per cent of normal capacity or 100 people, whatever’s lower. Outside the metro region, worship services are capped at 20 per cent capacity or 250 people. The chief provincial public health officer said Friday the numbers strike a balance.

“These are significant reductions that are going to have significant effects on people and we know that, especially during challenging times,” said Dr. Brent Roussin.

Roussin said an outbreak at a personal care home was related to the virus being contracted at a faith-based gathering but he said most organizations have done a good job of putting safeguards in place.

Some religious organizations are voluntarily suspending services during code red

The pews in the sanctuary at Bethel Mennonite Church stayed empty this past Sunday.

Lead pastor Darrel Toews said the congregation isn’t allowed to attend until further notice due to the spike in Winnipeg of COVID-19 cases.

“In light of the scenario in the city and in light of our overall compassion for each and our neighbours we thought it made sense to restrict our in-person gatherings,” said Toews.

Toews said by making the decision to cancel services as a church, it takes some pressure off members of the congregation who might feel torn over whether to attend.

“It made sense to us without judging other communities and what their decisions are,” said Toews.

He said in recent services they have held during the pandemic, they’ve only had a maximum of 85 people attend in a space that can accommodate several hundred.

The church is helping people without computers connect virtually. 

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