COVID-19 Update #16

Dear all,

Amended restrictions in NSW from today

Further to our past communications, we provide this update following release of the Public Health Order Amendment last night, which is effective from today.

There are two main and important changes:

  1. the maximum number of persons allowed at each church service is now 100; and
  2. all places of worship must now register with NSW Health as a COVID Safe business.

This means that if are conducting church services this weekend it is imperative that you register your Safety Plan with NSW Health today.

Maximum number of people

From today, capacity at places of worship must not exceed 100 people, or one person per four (4) square metres of space (excluding staff), whichever is the lesser.

NSW Health has issued specific guidelines for weddings and funerals, which we encourage church leaders to review before conducting a wedding or funeral: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/industry-guidelines.

We are informed that the maximum number applies to separate buildings, so you could have 100 people in the church building and up to 100 children in the hall at the same time.  The main issue for NSW Health is that there are measures in place to prevent intermingling of groups of maximum numbers and that rigorous contact details are recorded.

Church staff and volunteers involved in leading church services are not included in these maximum numbers, but care should be exercised so that we do not seek to take advantage of this exemption by swelling the numbers of ‘workers’ to conduct a service.

Church services, children ministries and youth groups

NSW Health guidelines are summarised below:

  • Display conditions of entry (website, social media, venue entry).
  • Consider offering online services or alternative arrangements for people in high-risk categories (e.g. over 70 years).
  • Group singing is particularly high risk and to be avoided. 
  • Solo singing and wind instruments can spread COVID-19 if a participant is infected.  Additional planning around these activities should be undertaken from a work health and safety perspective, including ensuring 3 metres distance from the audience.
  • Reduce mingling wherever possible and promote physical distancing. Where reasonably practical, ensure congregational members and church staff maintain 1.5 metres physical distancing at all times, including in office or meeting rooms.  
  • Please note that family members do not need to physically distance.
  • Children and youth ministries should be conducted in accordance with the NSW Government guidelines on Schools and Childcare.  Children do not need to follow strict adult physical distancing guidelines but should follow good hygiene practices.  Leaders should continue to maintain 1.5m physical distancing from children where practical.
  • Please continue to use telephone or video for essential meetings where practical.
  • Review regular deliveries and request contactless delivery and invoicing where practical.
  • Have strategies in place to manage gatherings that may occur immediately outside the premises, such as at the conclusion of services.  This may involve suspending or adjusting the practice of greeting congregants as they arrive or depart to ensure appropriate physical distancing.
  • Coordinate with public transport, where reasonably practical, around strategies to minimise COVID-19 risks associated with transportation to and from the church if crowding on public transport may occur.
  • Take measures to ensure drivers of courtesy vehicles minimise close contact with passengers where possible.
  • Please ask and exclude church staff and congregants who are unwell from the premises.
  • Provide staff with information and training on COVID-19, including when to get tested, physical distancing and cleaning.

COVID-19 Safety Plans

All places of worship must now register a COVID-19 Safety Plan with NSW Health and the Plan must be available for inspection. 

Details of what is required and how to register can be found on: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/covid-safe-businesses#industries.

Please note that you may need to update the plan in the future, as restrictions and advice changes.  If your congregation has already registered as a COVID Safe business online and you update your safety plan, you do not need to register again.

Please ensure that all external groups using church premises have registered their Safety Plan with NSW Health, and retain copies for inspection.

Visitors to households, including for bible study

The rules on gatherings remain the same: 20 guests inside the home and 20 for gatherings in a public place.  However, as the home is a high transmission area, the NSW Chief Health Officer strongly recommends a COVID-Safe precautionary approach of limiting visitors to the home to 10 people as a general principle.  

As private residences are not places of worship, there is no 4sqm rule applicable to gatherings in homes and there is no requirement to prepare a COVID-19 Safety Plan for gatherings in homes.

Gatherings in homes are the responsibility of the householder and they should not be advertised as church events.  Should a householder invite visitors to their home for bible study or to watch services, we encourage people to practice 1.5m social distancing and good hygiene at all times.

Hygiene and cleaning

NSW Health guidelines are summarised below:

  • Adopt good hand hygiene practices.
  • Ensure bathrooms are well stocked with hand soap and paper towels or hand dryers.
  • Consider modifying the serving of communion to avoid direct contact where practical.  Where this is not practical, ensure hands are washed before and after each interaction with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid sharing books, drinking cups or other shared objects used during the service such as collection plates.
  • Clean frequently used indoor hard surface areas (including children’s play areas) at least daily with detergent/disinfectant.  Clean frequently touched areas and surfaces several times per day.
  • Disinfectant solutions need to be maintained at an appropriate strength and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Staff are to wear gloves when cleaning and wash hands thoroughly before and after with soap and water.

Record keeping

NSW Health guidelines are summarised below:

  • Keep a record of name and a mobile number or email address for all staff, volunteers, visitors and contractors for a period of at least 28 days.
  • For households, one contact is sufficient to support contact tracing.  Ensure records are used only for the purposes of tracing COVID-19 infections and are stored confidentially and securely.
  • Encourage congregants and church staff aware of the COVIDSafe app and its benefits to support contact tracing if required.

Please do not hesitate to email Jeof Falls on jfalls@pcnsw.org.au or Peter Merrick on pmerrick@pcnsw.org.au should you have any questions.

Grace and peace,
Andrew Campell, NSW Moderator, PCNSW
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer