June 12, 2020
At this time, the Ontario government has eased some of the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, which potentially allows for minyanim to occur. This does not indicate that minyanim are safe. This is a particular concern in the religious Jewish community, which is characterized by a high level of social interaction. Many minyan guidance documents (including those from the OU and the Agudah in the U.S.) have suggested that minyanim should only restart several weeks after they are legally permitted and should be reintroduced in an incremental manner. It must be understood that there is significant risk involved in resuming indoor minyanim and the effects of doing so here in Toronto have yet to be determined. The decision to undertake this risk will be in the hands of the rabbis and the administration of each shul.
It is impossible to altogether eliminate risk. This document provides guidance on how to minimize the risk associated with minyanim for those shuls choosing to open. The risk of COVID-19 in any community depends on the sum-total of all the physical interactions in the community. If some members of a community are eating meals, studying or socializing with others outside of minyanim, this exponentially increases the risk of minyanim in that community.
In formulating these guidelines, we recognize that a “one size fits all’ approach is impossible. Each shul has a unique physical structure, philosophy, membership, and tolerance of risk. The intent is not to provide specific guidance as much as to outline the general principles that can enable shul administrations or committees to compose their own standards under rabbinic guidance.
- Shuls are now permitted to open at 30% occupancy. However, gathering outside is safer than gathering indoors.
- The magnitude of risk is related to duration of exposure. Therefore, the shorter the duration of time spent indoors, the lower the risk.
- The magnitude of risk is related to frequency of exposure. Hence, davening mincha and maariv together is preferable to meeting an extra time.
- The risk associated with small groups of individuals is modest. However, when these meetings happen often (ie: two/three times daily) or involve mixing of different people, the risk of COVID-19 spread increases dramatically. Mixing of individuals between minyanim at different times or different days should be minimized.
- Individuals or those whose household members are either attending several minyanim, visiting from the US, or are gathering with others in close proximity on a regular basis should be considered at higher risk for infection and transmission to others.
- Physical distancing of 2m (~6 feet) in all directions should be maintained at any time. A greater distance is recommended if participants will be singing or davening loudly. Practically, there should be nobody directly in front of the chazzan or baal koreh. The number of people in any davening space should be limited to the number that can fit with at least 2m between them in all directions.
- These 2m spaces should be clearly marked and designated prior to davening.
- For any davening space, indoor or outdoor, there should be a separate entrance and exit so that participants do not pass by each other within 2m. Alternatively, entrance and exit procedures and timing should be arranged so those entering and exiting are strictly
- If there will be multiple minyanim within one building, staggering start times helps reduce congestion.
- Attendees should avoid facing each other. This is particularly true if they are singing or speaking loudly.
- Kriyat Hatorah presents a particular challenge. Under rabbinic halachic guidance, a protocol should minimize the number of those physically in contact with the Sefer Torah and a system should be devised that would allow for 2m separation between individuals at all times.
- Toronto Public Health requires that masks must be worn if in rare circumstances, physical distancing is not possible.
- The custom of kissing the Sefer Torah (even with a talit or gartel) should not be observed.
- Masks substantially mitigate risk and should be strongly encouraged (if not made mandatory). A mask protects others from the mask wearer more than the mask wearer from others.
- Singing or speaking increases both the number of droplets that are released into the air and the distance the droplets can travel. There have been some significant outbreaks associated with prayer groups or choir groups.
- We strongly recommend strict adherence to a rule that anyone leading services, singing, or speaking/reading loudly must wear a mask.
Socializing and Kiddush
- Shul is usually a social and supportive environment. However, in order to maximize time for davening and limit the overall congregating time, social interactions should be kept to a minimum. Eating and drinking while masked is impossible. Sharing food and drinks greatly increases risk and participating in a kiddush should not be considered at this time.
Hygiene, Surfaces and Objects
- All participants should wash their hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer before joining the minyan, as well as upon entrance and exit to/from the building.
- All high-touch surfaces should be cleaned before and after the prayer service. These surfaces include door handles, religious objects, chair armrests or tables as appropriate.
- Tallitot, siddurim and chumashim should not be shared. Participants should be encouraged to bring their own sefarim from home.
- Any rituals that involve any close contact (<2m) or sharing of objects (eg: havdallah in shul) should not be performed.
- We recognize that it is not practical to ban use of the restroom. However, that is a potential source of contamination and spread. Therefore, use of the restroom should be as limited as possible and a protocol for frequent cleaning of surfaces should be in place after every tefilah.
Who Should Not Attend Minyan
- Anyone who is experiencing symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (including fever, cough, muscle aches and tiredness, difficulty breathing, sore throat, diarrhea, or loss of smell and/or taste) should not attend minyan. In fact, a symptomatic individual should self-isolate and should undergo testing.
- Anyone who has had unprotected (without full PPE) exposure to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days should not attend minyan.
- Anyone who has travelled from outside of the province in the past 14 days should not attend a minyan.
- Children of any age who cannot strictly follow shul guidance should not attend minyan.
- Anyone who is over age 70, who are immunocompromised or who has any chronic condition that may make them more likely to have severe COVID-19 disease should not attend minyan without first consulting their physician.
- Individuals with high risk household members should carefully consider the risk of their attendance to vulnerable members of their household.
Safety Officers and Registration
- An individual should be designated as a safety officer for each minyan. This person is responsible for ensuring that all of the shul-specific guidance is adhered to and participant contact information is gathered and maintained.
- The safety officer, or another individual, should screen congregants for eligibility to attend prior to the minyan.
- A registration system (i.e. online sign-up) requiring reservation of spaces for each minyan is the only practical way to ensure the number of those attending the minyan does not exceed the prespecified maximum.
- A registration system is also vital since a record of all attendees, along with dates and times of all meetings, should be kept by the safety officer in order to facilitate contact tracing, should this become necessary.
- There should be a clear, predefined course of action to follow should a minyan participant develop symptoms and/or test positive for Covid-19.
- It is essential to record shul protocols in writing and these should be disseminated among the membership and posted in shul to ensure consistent adherence over time.
Kol HaCovid Minyan Committee