In the week preceding Shabbas Shuvah, the daily chart of coronavirus hospitalizations shared by Governor Andrew Cuomo showed a rise in patients. On Tuesday, September 22, there were 470, and a week later there were 571, with more than one percent of people tested statewide reporting positive results. “Twenty ZIP Codes average a positive test rate of five percent – about five times the statewide average,” he wrote. “We know how this virus spreads and we know how to stop the spread. Local governments MUST enforce compliance.”
In Queens, the spike was first reported in Kew Gardens and many residents of the larger nearby community of Kew Gardens Hills recognized that reporters often confuse these two neighborhoods and it would only be a matter of days before Kew Gardens Hills would be added to the list of ZIP Codes with above average results. The city shared this feeling and had trucks with loudspeakers telling residents in English and Yiddish to get tested and wear masks. Many of us laughed at the choice of language that would be best used in Borough Park and Williamsburg, but I presumed that the same people understood why that truck was in our neighborhood.
On Erev Shabbos, I was crossing Main Street on my way to Mazal Grocery when I crossed paths with this truck. I looked at the pedestrians and shoppers around me. Everyone had masks on. After making a purchase, I stood in line to pick up my son from school. Every parent, teacher, and student had their masks on. That evening in shul, as you can guess by now, everyone was masked and sitting at a distance from each other.
I felt a false sense of comfort having friends, neighbors, coworkers, and a synagogue complying with state-mandated guidelines. I am aware that there are noncompliant minyanim and crowded simchos attended by members of our community, but nobody among my immediate acquaintances.
On Sunday night, two hours after Yom Kippur ended, my daughter’s school, the Yeshiva of Central Queens, sent an email that in-person classes would be suspended though Sukkos out of an “abundance of caution.” I cannot say that I was surprised, as each day the school reported a member of its community testing positive for the virus. Each time, the infected individual was not a member of my daughter’s cohort, meaning that her class was safe enough to learn in-person. With each email, families were warned to practice social distancing and wear masks. We understood that it was a matter of time before her class would be required to stay home.
When I read about the disorganized reopening of the city’s public schools, and the bickering between the governor, mayor, and labor unions, I am thankful that we’ve chosen a school that began preparing for its reopening as soon as its doors closed in March. The past three weeks enabled my daughter to know her teachers and classmates, fostering a connection that serves her well now that she is learning online again.
In the meantime, I can only describe the noncompliance of other community members as purely selfish. The school that has sanitizers in every room, partitions on all desks, masks and temperature tests for every individual, and requires vaccination for other illnesses, has done everything possible to enable in-person learning in the midst of this pandemic. All it needs is the compliance of the surrounding community. Our children’s education depends on it.
By Sergey Kadinsky