“Definitely, we know that, in Orange Walk, when we had the beginning of this third surge, churches were involved … and not only there, even in the Belize District we saw it happening,” Dr. Melissa Diaz Musa, the director of the Central Health Region, said to The Reporter this week when asked about the role of the churches as pertains to the spread of COVID-19.
The interview follows the enactment of the new Statutory Instrument (S.I. No. 119), which among other things, limits church attendance to only vaccinated person, a move that signaled that the authorities viewed congregants as having contributed to the heightened number of COVID-19 cases.
“But it is not only in Churches,” Diaz explained, “it also depends on the public health measures and if they are being enforced. So if it is an environment where the public health measures are not being adhered to you will see a spread.”
The director—when presented with a case-in-point scenario where congregants were seen ignoring the mask protocol—went on to explain that in those instances there are high possibilities that the virus was spreading.
“Churches are a place where there is a lot of singing, clapping, praising, holding hands, hugging, and so on,” Diaz elucidated. “With these things you know that you can have an increased possibility of spreading especially with singing because with that saliva and different secretion are more readily and easier to come out and persons within feet of you can become infected if you don’t have on a mask.”
Given the high levels of transmissibility for the Delta Variant, the virus can spread more easily than the original variant and so health officials are not only seeing an increase of cases in place of worships, but even in the workplace, farms, and even households where there is significant spread due to close contacts among individuals.
“Initially, we use to see one or two persons getting infected in the household now we see the entire household becoming infected within 24 to 48 hours. So we do know and we have seen it firsthand that the Delta Variant is so much more transmissible than the previous original strain. Any environment where the public health measures are not being adhered to then there is where you will see a source of spread.”
Based on the data that the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) collects from infected persons, via contact tracing, that is able to guide health authorities to identify areas of vulnerability in the community, which they would then move to close down, tighten their restrictions, or as they are doing now, allow only fully vaccinated persons to enter.
Currently, under the latest S.I. which became effective on October 14th, only fully vaccinated persons are allowed to enter a congregation. Additionally no more than 50% of the building’s capacity is to be filled. Additionally, the church service should not surpass an hour.
Finally, all persons in the congregation are mandated to properly wear their face masks, with the exception of the pastor or priest. The pastors or priests are to ensure that the congregation is also adhering to social distancing measures and is to ensure that their congregation is adhering to all the measures explained above. Failure to do so can result in being ticketed.