Tuesday September 22nd, 2020
Subject: Guidance for Houses of Worship in COVID-19 Hotspots in Ontario
Respected Regional and Provincial Chief Medical Officers of Health and Minister of Health,
Thank you once again for all your hard work and leadership, the guidance and resources that you have developed and shared with businesses and faith groups to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and your feedback on our previous communications.
We released a statement on September 17th, 2020 recommending mosques and Islamic centres within regions identified as hotspots of COVID-19 to reduce activities if they are open, as soon as possible and before September 24th, 2020. This would be in accordance with our updated and detailed guidance document, Keeping Our Mosques and Communities Open & Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Framework for Canadian Mosques and Islamic Centres, released on August 29, 2020.
While the limits on gathering sizes falls within the purview of the respective provincial and/or regional bodies, Phase B of our guidance includes a key measure which advises mosques to have only 1 gathering for the weekly Friday congregatory prayer (in addition to the other 4 daily prayers) during periods of high community prevalence, as opposed to typically several that are held in quick succession, in order to accommodate large congregation sizes.
To provide some context, since reopening during the pandemic, mosques across Canada have abided by provincial limits for congregation sizes, which may be 50 persons in British Columbia, or up to 30% of building capacity in Ontario. Our feedback and experience from both mosques and community members is that within Ontario during the summer while community prevalence was low and decreasing, many mosques were hosting multiple Friday prayers, typically with attendance of different groups of up to hundreds of worshippers at a time. Our guidance advised having at least 30 minutes between the last person leaving and first person arriving from each gathering with disinfection in between, although in practice some of these gatherings may have been taking place as little as 10 minutes apart with many community members visiting multiple mosques during a week, as is customary. The pressure to hold as many large Friday prayers as possible is not just for accommodating the community’s spiritual needs during these difficult times, but also one of survival. Like other houses of worship, mosques rely heavily on worshippers streaming in especially during Friday prayers with donations to remain financially viable.
While holding these large, multiple gatherings within a short period of time are not explicitly a direct violation of current guidelines for houses of worship, Canadian Muslims represent a sizable community within these identified hotspot regions and mostly identify with being higher-risk persons of colour. This adds concern that despite preventative measures in place, possible outbreaks may not undergo timely contact tracing, quarantining or isolation given current public health resources and without a mandate to maintain registration logs for houses of worship, as is the case in British Columbia.
We invite you to read our detailed guidance to better understand the context of these established high-risk settings, and ask for your support through updated correspondence which supports mandating registration logs, encourages worshippers to pray at one preferred local mosque and reducing the number of high-risk gatherings at houses of worship given current allowances in hotspot regions. In addition, we ask for funding for houses of worship that thus far have implemented safety and infection control measures at their own expense, which has compounded financial pressures to accommodate as many persons as possible.
Your timely leadership and direction in this matter is needed and appreciated. Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to continuing to hear from and working with you.
Mrs. Rabia Khedr & Dr. M. Hashim Khan MBBS MPH FRCPC, Co-Chairs
Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force (CMCTF)