As all of you know, the Coronavirus crisis is hitting the United States just as one of the most important holidays falls out this week, Purim. The lessons that are being learned on how to best react and protect those most vulnerable must be learned early and implemented.
The term “community spread” is particularly important in Jewish communities worldwide as we spend so much time together on a weekly basis. All infectious diseases are challenging to the orthodox Jewish community as we have large families, large institutions, and large gatherings. Avoiding rapid and widespread outbreak requires changing human behavior. While this typically means washing hands, avoiding touching one’s face, not shaking hands, and not hugging , in this case we have to add avoiding large gatherings where there is little control.
This is why Purim this year will need a change in human behavior.
I have been in touch with a number of schools and yeshivas regarding how to best react to the rapidly changing advisories and evolving outbreak. The question of large gathering Purim parties should be addressed immediately as we are days away and the number of cases is growing quickly.
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It is my recommendation that these gatherings should not take place where large numbers of people come together for school, shul or community Purim parties. Small family gatherings are much better managed and advised. In cases where family members are obviously sick, they should simply stay home and not risk infecting others who cannot afford the complications. Grandparents and high-risk individuals are much more likely to have serious compromise from this virus and need to be protected. When large gatherings occur especially combined with drinking and dancing, people will not modify their behaviors and exposures are inevitable in very large numbers.
As we are learning from the experience in Westchester, gatherings in shuls can be very dangerous at this point. Even when attending davening, people should be very prepared to change behaviors- no shaking of hands, no hugging, wash hands frequently after touching surfaces.
Most importantly, if you are showing signs of any infection such as fever, cough, aches and pains, chills, or weakness- DO NOT COME TO SHUL OR ANY PUBLIC GATHERINGS. This becomes a simple lesson on Bein Adom L’Chaveiro as well as Bein Adom L’Makom.
Be a good Jew now and change your behaviors in a positive and protective way.
Stuart H. Ditchek, MD, FAAP
Faculty, New York University School of Medicine
Chief Medical Officer, Kids of Courage
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)