Public health officials the world over are desperately trying to cope with the spread of coronavirus. There is a growing fear that the global pandemic might be impossible to subside. The terrible respiratory sickness, labeled COVID-19 – COronaVIrus Disease 2019 – has afflicted upwards of 75,000 globally and took the lives of well over 2,000 in 24 countries. Nine deaths were recently reported in Washington State. This virus is different from the common coronavirus that may cause a cold. This strain was discovered to have probable origins from a bat, where humans never had the chance to develop immunity. Now the virus is no longer spreading via wild animal, rather, person-to-person; and it remains active on contact surfaces for two days and up to a week in carpeting. It differs from the recent measles outbreak, as that was a highly contagious virus and this seemingly is spread only in communal areas. An actively sick individual can protect others by remaining in isolation.
In a remarkable show of concern, US President Donald Trump lived good on his promise to donate his salary, and sent his fourth-quarter earnings of $100,000 to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health as a small way “to support efforts being undertaken to confront, contain, and combat” coronavirus, according to a release by his press secretary’s office.
Today there is no cure, but labs in New York City, around the US, and in Israel are hurriedly working to release a vaccine. To date, the only remedy is to quarantine. On Tuesday, March 3, this option was exercised close to home as the Young Israel of New Rochelle was forced to cease services and have its members who attended Shabbos services on February 22, and a funeral and bas mitzvah on Sunday, February 23, at the shul seclude themselves until Sunday, March 8, at the earliest, as a 50-year-old Orthodox Manhattan attorney from New Rochelle, who davens there, came down with symptoms of COVID-19. Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed that the gentleman had “not traveled to any locations on the so called watch list and had sought treatment at the NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville on February 22.” He was later transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian Manhattan, where the virus was confirmed. George Latimer, Westchester County Executive, stated, “The family of this individual is quarantined at home.” It was then publicized that he has four children; two are abroad studying in Israel, one is a student at SAR High School in Riverdale, and one attends Yeshiva University in Washington Heights. Reports then surfaced of students at YU, the Modern Orthodox educational center, entering self-seclusion as a precaution to possible exposure to the virus following interaction with the son of the inflicted. “We are trying to be cautious and not walk around as much,” said one student asked about the fear on campus. Other students expressed outrage that classes remained in session while they were left to wander about in fear and confusion without much direction. SAR was closed for cleaning on Tuesday as a safeguard, as well as the Beth-El preschool and Westchester Day School. An early morning statement to parents from Rabbi Binyamin Krauss of SAR explained that the closure was simply for “precautionary measures” and stressed the need “to remain calm and continue following preventive measures.” Residents were quite concerned, as their lives were thrown into disarray, but there was no widespread panic in the religious community.
Then, Yeshiva Bais Hillel of Passaic canceled Parent-Teacher Conferences as a potential exposure of a staff member was uncovered. The Yeshiva alerted parents: “Our students and staff are not at risk… We are following the recommendation to conduct a thorough cleaning of our building.”
Citizens are advised to wash our hands with soap regularly, use an alcoholic-based hand sanitizer, avoid touching our eyes, nose, and mouth, use tissues when coughing, disinfect surfaces, phones, and doorknobs often, keep toothbrushes separated, change our clothes when coming in from the outdoors, and get a flu shot (if not already done so).
With the constant spread of coronavirus, the effects are not only being felt within the public arena. Business and tourism have both taken major hits. With the looming Pesach holiday just a mere few weeks away, the Jewish world is in for a fast awakening. Resorts have long run getaway programs in picturesque areas like Prague, Thailand, Italy, Spain, and the Adriatic region, among other locales. Milan is Italy’s second most populous destination, but the onslaught of the coronavirus epidemic in that region of Europe has brought tourism there to a screeching halt. Often this is due to airlines abandoning scheduled flights as demand has fallen to near zero. It seems the Jews of Europe, Israel, and the US may have to cope with the grind of Pesach cleaning after all, as no money in the world can make certain programs a reality. Doni Schwartz operates PassoverListings.com, a destination for review and advertisements of Pesach options. “Consumers have been very nervous. A lot are scrambling for new programs in the US.” The Queens Jewish Link spoke with Rita P. who booked a retreat with Leisure Time Tours and was easily able to transfer to a new program within their network. Her friend opted instead for a full refund.
El Al is one airline close to home that has since laid off 1,000 of its 6,300 workers, and stopped many flights from taking off, due to a lack of interest in service to destinations far from the Chinese source of the epidemic. The company is in the middle of a bailout from the State of Israel and expects revenue to fall by nearly $70 million by the end of April. Some travelers resonate the era with wartime or natural disasters, but all are happy to be healthy. “It is hard to take solace knowing so many are suffering. It is just terrible,” related Rita.
Endless businesses, both large and small, around the US and abroad are banning their employees from traveling both domestically and internationally out of COVID-19 fears. Companies are instituting wide-scale sanctions on their staff for violations. For example, Ford Motor has put these new regulations into effect until March 27. Tech giants like Twitter have suspended “all non-business travel and events” to reduce the risk of contracting the virus even inadvertently. The stock market has had one of the most volatile weeks in recent history, as each day brings new fears for what COVID-19 can unleash.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement explaining that the Westchester father “remains hospitalized and is in serious condition.” All are requested to have him in mind in their prayers: Eliezer Yitzchak ben Shifrah. A hotline was established for further information on the deadly virus: 1.888.364.3065.
By Shabsie Saphirstein