Last updated: October 4, 2021 at 5:35 p.m.

Read Toronto Public Health’s Guidance for Places of Worship (also available below). Read also Toronto Public Health’s Guidance for Planning a Funeral Reception or Celebration of Life and Planning a Wedding.

On January 4, 2021, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health issued a Letter of Instruction to all employers in the City of Toronto permitted to be open under the Reopening Ontario Act. Employers permitted to be open are required to take the additional measures set out in this Letter to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The following guidance is intended to support operators of places of worship to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Religious services, rites, ceremonies, related celebrations and other activities held at a place of worship must comply with the Reopening Ontario Act.

Toronto Public Health encourages virtual and outdoor religious services in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Indoor religious gatherings with strict gathering limits are permitted.

The aim and purpose of this document is to assist individuals and businesses with information related to the Ontario Government’s reopening framework as well as Toronto Public Health requirements to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is important to know that breaches of some of these directions will constitute offences under provincial regulations or other public health legal requirements. While we aim to provide relevant and timely information, no guarantee can be given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided. This guidance is not intended to nor does it provide legal advice and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice. Users seeking legal advice should consult with a qualified legal professional. The full Ontario re-opening regulations for Step 3 are available online.

  • Host virtual or outdoor services to allow everyone to participate.
  • Limit indoor gatherings for physical distancing & better ventilation.
  • Monitor proximity for physical distancing & wear a mask.
  • Limit duration when people are together indoors.

1. Encourage Vaccination

2. Conduct Virtual or Outdoor Services

  • Toronto Public Health strongly encourages virtual or outdoor services at this time to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and to ensure that everyone can participate safely.

3. Limited Gatherings are Permitted

  • During the pandemic, there have been multiple COVID-19 outbreaks linked to weddings and funeral receptions.
  • Keep religious gatherings as short as possible, and plan for a limited number of people.
  • All individuals must be able to maintain at least two metres physical distancing from people they do not live with at all times.

Capacity Limits (subject to physical distancing)

Wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony
Social gathering associated with a wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony
Place of worship
Indoorsb & Outdoors: Limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the roomc Indoors: 25 people or less + maintain a physical distance

Outdoors: 100 people or less + maintain a physical distance

If held in a meeting and event space, subject to applicable limits.

Meeting or event spaces
Indoorsb & Outdoors: Limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the roomc Indoors: 50% capacity, up to 1,000 people + maintain a physical distance

Outdoors: 75% capacity, up to 5,000 people + maintain a physical distance

Private dwelling
Indoors: 25 people or less + maintain a physical distance

Outdoors: 100 people or less + maintain a physical distance

Indoors: 25 people or less + maintain a physical distance

Outdoors: 100 people or less+ maintain a physical distance

a Subject to requirements for meeting and event spaces.

bThis applies to services, rites or ceremonies held in a building or structure other than a private dwelling.

c This can be calculated as one person per two metres squared (four square metres or 43 square feet) of publicly accessible floor space.

Toronto Public Health strongly discourages multiple indoor services being held at the same time and asks that Toronto’s places of worship do their part in helping to reduce the spread of the very contagious and severe variants of COVID-19.

4. Communicate

  • Update staff and attendees on the new restrictive measures.
  • Encourage everyone to download the COVID Alert app.
  • Print and display relevant posters by entrances, hallways, washrooms and meeting rooms.

5. Safety Plan

  • It is strongly recommended that places of worship prepare a written safety plan that:
    • Describes measures/procedures that have been or will be implemented in the organization to reduce spread of COVID-19.
    • Includes measures for screening, physical distancing, masks, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and preventing and controlling crowding.
    • Is posted in a visible place to come to the attention of those working or attending the location.
  • Use the COVID-19 Safety Plan Checklist to develop your safety plan.

6. Health screening

7. Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

  • Provide hand sanitizer stations by entrances, and in high traffic areas.
  • Top up supplies of liquid hand soap, paper towel, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
  • Encourage handwashing with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching face with unwashed hands.
  • Cover cough or sneeze into your sleeve or with a tissue.
  • Do not use gloves as a substitute for hand hygiene.

8. Wear a mask

  • Everyone must wear a mask indoors, with some exceptions.
  • Learn more about the City of Toronto mask bylaw under Orders & Bylaws.
  • Develop your own policy on masks. See sample mask policy.
  • Train staff on the mask bylaw and your organization’s policy, including who is exempt and how to safely wear a cloth mask or face covering. Masks are not required for children under the age of two and people with trouble breathing.
  • Some people who cannot wear a mask are exempted from the bylaw. Proof of exemption is not required. Consider providing alternatives for people who are unable to wear a mask (e.g. virtual services, specific timed services).
  • A mask should be worn outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

9. Physical distancing measures

  • Limit attendance and modify rooms / hallways to allow for physical distancing.
  • Use floor markings and signs for one directional movement to reduce crowding.
  • Anticipate areas where people will naturally gather (e.g. outside, hallway, foyer). Assign staff or volunteers to remind everyone about physical distancing.
  • Remove or tape off seats and alternative rows for two metre distancing between attendees.
  • Consider seating by households and encourage everyone to remain seated for the service.
  • Have ushers to manage seating, and exit the room row by row.

10. Modify or suspend activities to reduce virus spread

  • Consider drive-in and/or live streaming services.
  • Consider telephone counselling services, when possible.
  • Offer in-person programming outdoors whenever possible.
    • If using a tent or canopy, at least two full sides must be open to the outdoors and not substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable barriers.
    • Limit capacity under the tent/canopy to ensure physical distancing can be maintained.
    • Arrange tables and chairs to promote physical distancing.
    • Require masks or face coverings if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Keep in-person services short, especially indoors.
  • Avoid use of items that require contact by multiple people, such as chalice, holy water stoup, washing facilities, prayer books, cushions, shawls, prayer rugs, etc.
  • Consider alternative collection options such as a secure drop box or touch-less offerings.
  • Provide single-use handouts or ask congregants to bring their own items.
  • If sharing work equipment such as phones and computers, clean and disinfect between users.
  • Leave distribution materials/objects on a table for people to pick up.
  • For rites requiring close contact (e.g. baptism, circumcision), wear a medical mask and eyewear or face shields. Do not share personal protective equipment.
  • Use a microphone instead of speaking loudly. Do not share. Clean and disinfect microphones according to manufacturer’s instructions after each use.

11. Drive-in services

    • Vehicles should only include members of the same household.
    • Encourage people to stay in their vehicles, except to use the washroom or where necessary for the purposes of health and safety.
    • Vehicles must be parked at least two metres apart.
    • Materials or items should not be passed/shared between cars attending the gathering.
    • Encourage drivers to turn off their car engines to reduce exhaust from idling.

12. Vocalists, musicians and performers

Indoor group singing, dancing and use of wind instruments has been linked to numerous outbreaks in multiple countries. Avoid risks by considering alternative options.

  • Limit the number of performers or vocalists. Avoid group or congregational singing.
  • Use pre-recorded music (audio/ video), or use alternative musical instruments.
  • Performers must maintain at least two metres distance from any spectators or be separated by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier. Clean and disinfect barriers after each use.
  • All performers should stand at least two metres apart from other performers and conductor.
  • Length of instruments should be accounted for when determining physical distancing.

13. Food and Drink

14. Attendance Record for Contact Tracing

  • Keep an attendance record of all staff, volunteers and visitors. Include name, date, time/ event, email address or phone number.
  • Information may be gathered beforehand if there is online registration. If collecting information at the entrance, maintain physical distance and do not pass pen and paper around.
  • Personal information collected can only be used for contract tracing and should be kept in locked drawer or office for 30 days, and then shredded.

15. Plans in the Event of Illness

  • Develop a plan in the event someone becomes sick while in your place of worship.
  • Have a room where the person can be isolated until they can go home safely or receive medical attention.
  • Have personal protective equipment (e.g. medical mask, gloves, gown, face shield) available.
  • Operators must immediately notify Toronto Public Health via the Workplace Reporting Tool as soon as they become aware of two or more employees who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval in connection with the place of worship.

16. Enhanced Cleaning and Disinfection

  • Refer to cleaning and disinfecting fact sheet for instructions.
  • Assign staff or volunteers to clean and disinfect as frequently as is necessary to maintain a sanitary condition.
  • Keep a cleaning log to track activities.
  • Wash garments and linens after use, at the hottest temperature setting possible.
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter instead of sweeping floors.
  • Line the waste bins with plastic bags and empty waste bins often.
  • Change gloves when changing tasks, or more often as necessary.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after taking off gloves.
  • Always read the labels. Avoid mixing cleaning agents. Use in a well ventilated area.

17. Heating, Ventilation And Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems

  • Maximize outdoor air ratio of the HVAC settings, or open windows and doors, where possible.
  • Ensure the HVAC system(s) are properly maintained.
  • Use the highest efficiency filters that are compatible with the HVAC system.
  • Do not obstruct HVAC inlets and outlets.
  • Keep seating and activities away from areas with high airflow (i.e. not in front of air vents).
  • Use an upward airflow rotation, when using ceiling fans.
  • Position fan upward to avoid blowing at people and surfaces, if using portable fans.
  • If using portable air purifiers, follow the manufacturer’s directions to decide where best to place the device. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on maintenance.
  • Refer to the COVID-19: Transmission, Aerosols and Ventilation factsheet for more information.

18. Childcare or Children’s Programs

Childcare / children’s programming must comply with COVID-19 Guidance for Child Care Settings.

19. Additional Resources

More information

Provincial orders under the Reopening Ontario Act and guidance for religious services, rites or ceremonies may change. Please visit toronto.ca/COVID19 regularly for updates or call us at 416-338-7600.

The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect your faith-based organization from the risks of COVID-19. It is safe and highly effective at reducing virus spread and protecting against serious illness.

Faith leaders can help encourage vaccination by creating a supportive environment that makes it easier for their community members to get vaccinated, and by providing information from trusted sources. See the following resources for more information:

Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to spread in our community. The majority of COVID-19 cases are among individuals who are not fully vaccinated. COVID-19 illness mainly affects the lungs, but it can also cause damage to other organs. For unvaccinated individuals, COVID-19 can increase the risk of hospitalization and/or death. We need to remain cautious.

Benefits of Vaccination

COVID-19 vaccination can help to protect us again severe illness from COVID-19 infection. Over 90% of COVID-19 cases in Ontario since mid-December are among individuals who are not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated individuals help protect people who cannot be vaccinated, such as young children. Vaccination may also reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks within faith based establishments and keep everyone safe. It will help to avoid further disruptions or closures and support confidence for a safer return of in-person activities.

Infection Prevention and Control and safety measures

Organizations are still required to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act by following measures, such as screening, masking, washing hands and physical distancing. The additional layers of protection keep everyone safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19. For more information, visit COVID-19 Guidance: Faith-Based Organizations.

Vaccination Policies & Protocols

Requiring proof of vaccination in addition to following public health measures (e.g. wearing a mask, physical distancing, etc.) will keep everyone safer.

Workers and Volunteers

It is strongly recommended that faith-based organizations create a workplace vaccination policy. Encourage and support all workers and volunteers to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. For more information, visit COVID-19: Vaccine Information for Employers.

Community Members

Faith based organizations have an opportunity to implement a vaccine protocol for community members to attend in-person services and other activities.

A vaccination protocol for in-person services should include the following components:

  • Required action: what community members will be required to do (e.g., show proof of vaccination)
  • Timelines: provide a date on which the protocol will be implemented
  • Alternatives for people who are not vaccinated: offer options such as virtual services
  • Supports: such as helping community members find a clinic or arrange transportation to get vaccinated
  • Reminder to follow public health measures: regardless of vaccination status, clearly remind community members to wear a mask indoors, maintain a two metre distance, and wash hands

Tenants

Places of worship are often used for a variety of activities such as religious services, programs, and other community-oriented services. It is strongly recommended that all buildings/establishments operated by faith-based organizations create a proof of vaccination protocol for anyone using the facilities. Encourage and support all who use the space to get fully vaccinated. Be sure to connect with the users of your space when developing a proof of vaccination protocol.

Tenants or groups who use the space for activities, such as arts or recreational activities, may be required to comply with provincial proof of vaccination requirements.

Host a Vaccination Clinic

Consider hosting a vaccine clinic at your place of worship to benefit workers, volunteers, community members, and anyone who uses the space. Submit a request to Toronto Public Health.

Resources