If you want to pray, don’t throw your mask away. And keep your distance!
That’s the message voiced over the weekend by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau and assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere. He warned that ignoring mask-wearing and social distance mandates can put at risk the community’s ability to continue to hold minyanim.
In a Zoom meeting on motzei Shabbat attended by over 900 people and in an 1,800-word email on Thursday, Rabbi Dr. Glatt said there have been new COVID-19 cases in the Five Towns and in other Orthodox communities, possibly triggered by locals not following guidelines and by visitors from problem states such as Florida, California and Texas ignoring quarantine requirements and, in some cases, attending social functions.
While the new illnesses so far have been mild, there’s no reason to assume they’ll stay that way, he said.
“I am not a navi — but I can, unfortunately, read the writing on the wall,” he said on Thursday. “COVID is not even close to being over.”
“Hakadosh Baruch Hu is telling us that we have to do certain things to help make the magayfah go away,” he said on Saturday night. “There are spiritual things we have to do, but there are also physical obligations that we’re required to do.”
The Five Towns Jewish Times published two columns by a local dentist who urged having emunah instead of using masks.
“It is a terrible shame — and against halacha — for individuals or publishers not expert in medicine or Jewish law to espouse fluffy but totally erroneous spiritual sounding pronouncements about conquering COVID-19 with emunah alone,” Rabbi Dr. Glatt said on Thursday.
“Right now, there is not a single Jewish ritual that we cannot perform properly with all of the right halachic ways to do it,” he said in Saturday night’s Zoom meeting. “What we shouldn’t be doing is large social gatherings especially around food.
“A kiddush after a minyan, which is not halachically required in any way, shape or form, can be extremely dangerous. And if people are doing those kinds of things, they’re putting our ability to potentially daven next week with a minyan at risk.”
“Is that kiddush so important that it’s worth putting the Yamim Noraim at risk?” he asked. “Is that worth putting someone’s grandparents at risk?”
With most new infections affecting younger people, he urged them to be especially vigilant.
For now, it’s safe to attend minyanim and shiyurim “if they’re done correctly, especially outdoors, all masked and socially distanced,” he said. “I do not think that poses a significant risk,” even for elderly people.
He added that poskim have said that anyone scared about their health does not have to come to shul, and “no one should go to any event, including shul, if they’re not feeling well.”
Asked whether it’s safer to daven inside or outside, he responded:
“Outside, Hakadosh Baruch Hu made a perfect purification system in the air. But I notice outside people tend to take off their masks. People outside are sometimes uncomfortable and hot and their masks come off faster than inside where there’s air conditioning. Intrinsically outside is safer than inside,” but that could depend on “who’s there and what are they doing.”
Those who wear a mask that covers both their mouth and nose are acting on the principle, ahavath rayacha ka mochah. When walking alone with people with whom you are living wearing a mask is not necessary — but keep it handy, he said, so it can quickly be put on when encountering others.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt reported the good news that “there is not one published case of someone truly getting COVID a second time.”
“People who think they got COVID a second time likely never really got rid of their first episode,” he said.
People in need of non-COVID-related medical and dental care are free to pursue it now, just “take all the precautions possible,” he said.
Here are excerpts from Rabbi Dr. Glatt’s Thursday email. Click here for the full text.
I am very sad to report we have seen an uptick in cases. Nassau County was down to 25 cases a day; that has since doubled. The Five Towns has new cases, related to travel into our area. Lakewood had five new cases connected to travel from Florida. Westchester County saw four outbreaks related to travel. And cases continue to rise in Israel, and across the country. …
What did the REAL experts say THIS week?
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “COVID is not even close to being over.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC Director said: “It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings.”
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC said: “What we hope is that we take it seriously and slow the transmission. We are not even beginning to be over this.”
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams implored Americans (young Americans in particular): “Wear a face covering when you go out in public. It is not an inconvenience. It is not a suppression of your freedom. It actually is a vehicle to achieve our goals.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH said: “New infections could reach 100,000 daily. I think it’s important to tell you and the American public that I’m very concerned because it could get very bad.”
From the CDC: CDC recommends all people (2 years and up) wear a face covering in public and when around people outside their house, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear cloth face coverings in public settings and practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from people).
From the Infectious Diseases Society of America:Individuals should Wear masks that cover the nose and mouth in all public settings; Wash or sanitize hands frequently; Maintain recommended physical distancing for the protection of themselves and others; Be aware of large gatherings; plan exit routes in advance if distancing becomes impossible.
From the Israeli Ministry of Health: Reinstituted restrictions in light of increased cases. Reduced attendees at halls and cultural performances, brissim, funerals and weddings; asked hall owners to hold semachot as much as possible in outdoor open spaces. Reduced prayer gatherings to 50 people in certain situations. …
Can you please tell me some good news about vaccine updates?
China approved a COVID-19 vaccine for use but only by its military, even though the vaccine has not undergone a phase III efficacy study. The vaccine, “Ad5 vectored COVID-19 vaccine” uses a recombinant adenovirus type-5 vectored spike glycoprotein of COVID-19. The phase I trial was published in The Lancet, and in the high dose group “severe fever, fatigue, dyspnea, muscle pain, and joint pain were reported in some of the recipients.” Not sure this trial would pass muster for most New Yorkers!
However, the FDA did release final guidance regarding standards for approving coronavirus vaccines in the US, requiring that any vaccine must be at least 50% more effective than placebo. Before approval, manufacturers will also need to conduct animal studies to ensure that their candidates don’t provoke an immune response known as enhanced respiratory disease, which actually worsens infection. The agency said COVID-19 vaccines must meet all the standard laws and regulatory requirements for any other vaccines to be approved, including manufacturing and control requirements.
Vaccines against the coronavirus are being developed in record time. Phase III trials are starting NOW. The FDA left open the possibility it would issue an emergency use authorization for a vaccine, but making that decision before the completion of large, randomized clinical trials makes it harder to determine effectiveness.
How can I prevent exposure in Phase 4 in Nassau County?
Because of increased cases, some scheduled Phase 4 openings are being held back; potential for trouble is too high. I am reiterating some guidelines. We must strengthen our commitment, NOT relax it.
•Outdoor events are generally safer than indoors;
•Always wear masks / socially distance unless you are with your “bubble”
•Be especially careful to distance when eating at restaurants, BBQs, weddings, large gatherings
•Minimize riskier activity as possible; decide if a risk is really worth taking
•Use public areas when they are less crowded; leave if things get out of hand
•Wash hands after coming in from outside, and after contact with “high-touch” surfaces. …
We all pray that relative COVID-19 calm returns to the Five Towns. May Hashem allow us to continue to safely celebrate semachot together.