Coronavirus Update #29: ‘Resocializing’ and Reopening

Coronavirus Update for the Crown Heights Community from the Gedaliah Society and Dr. Eli Rosen: Guidelines for gradually reopening the community while keeping the most vulnerable safe.  

We are happy to report to the community that there have been no obvious NEW cases of COVID in the Crown Heights Jewish community since the beginning of May. There remain a handful of individuals who have been not feeling well for many weeks, having initially contracted the virus after Purim and who still remain with positive viral nasal RNA/PCR samples.

Current thinking is that these individuals are no longer infectious but common sense dictates that they remain isolated until either viral RNA negative, or we get further clarification as to their status. Lastly there is a group of individuals who incidentally test positive for viral particles when presenting at hospitals in labor or for other reasons. These people are presumed to be non infectious at this time.

In order to safely “resocialize”, we have tried to develop a set of guidelines that will take place in stages, protect the vulnerable, and at all times stay within the framework of current New York state law. Given the parameters for ending the state’s “PAUSE” order, we as a community have for at least the past 4 weeks (and more) far exceeded those measures. This however does not allow us to consider the “costs” involved in reopening; there is no price to human life and the process has to proceed carefully, not risking a single soul.

For the foreseeable future, COVID will be a factor in our lives, and the risk of social engagement will not be zero. There is however a daily mounting danger to those elderly and vulnerable due to their isolation, and it is our contention that this risk is now greater than the risk of contracting the illness from adult children who already have been ill with COVID or have antibodies.  Acting smart and cautiously is critical.

In a similar way, children out of school in an unstructured environment are at risk based on their social situation and we need to find solutions for them to reenter some form of organised personal education, all within the law. This group, together with younger teachers who have had the virus or have antibodies, present the lowest health risk. Children of all ages need to be back with structure and formal education.  Add to this the stress within families who have been closed in for months, many of whom are younger, most of whom have had the disease, and the need for resocialization is obvious.

There is a very important and significant point that must be made in light of this. There are members of our community for whom contracting COVID could be very dangerous, and truly outweigh most of the psychosocial considerations. Those who are older and who have never been sick with the virus, of which BH there are many, remain at the highest risk for becoming seriously ill.  We strongly advise those in this group to continue being vigilant.

In order to move the above considerations forward, we would like to present the following suggestions, with the knowledge that this is truly a “novel” virus and there remains much that is still being studied. If we notice an uptick in cases at any time, we may have to return to a situation of strict separation.

There is no way to be reassured of this without aggressively watching for new cases, and containing them as they arise.

Therefore, we cannot stress enough: Anyone with new COVID-like symptoms MUST reach out to their doctor’s office and get tested for COVID. In addition, they MUST isolate themselves at home, and any close contacts who have not yet been ill must similarly quarantine themselves.

As we have pointed out in an earlier update, approximately 70% of adults under the age of 65 in our community have had “significant contact” with the virus. We have paid a terrible price in order to achieve this statistic that is more than double that of our neighbors in Flatbush, and certainly much more than that of New York City, or for that matter any other community in the country. If we consider people who have not contracted the disease (and particularly the vulnerable elderly) as “flammable”, and there are no other fires burning because we are essentially burned out, then they hopefully will not catch fire. This high rate of past infection community wide will, with the help of Hashem, protect us from the virus reactivating and spreading again locally, which would thereby put the vulnerable at high risk.

What this does mean, and it cannot be stressed enough, is that we cannot afford to import either recently exposed individuals, or a large group of susceptible people, that could have the effect of significantly diluting our protection. To this end we fervently plead that family and friends, or large groups of people who plan to come to Crown Heights, reconsider their plans, for the benefit of our vulnerable members. An alternative would be for those who plan to stay, to be quarantined for a period of two weeks after arrival, as many countries have done. For those who live in the community, travel to other cities/countries or even communities where new cases are still occuring presents a high risk.

With respect to reopening:

It is safe to say that the virus spreads most easily in closed, crowded environments, with poor air quality (recirculated air). For the time being this condition should be avoided by all. Outdoor spacious environments, with people appropriately distant and wearing masks, are the least likely to present a problem.

  • Young families and children constitute the lowest risk. They should continue to observe the rules in place, and may begin to associate with each other.
  • Those adults below 65 who have either had the illness or have antibodies, can leave their homes for the purposes of shopping, exercising, attending a minyan, going to work (in a safe environment) etc. Importantly, they may go and see elderly parents to take care of their needs and socialise with them, being cautious to wear a mask, gloves, and keep a safe distance. They can also help parents visit doctors or attend to other essential matters. They may visit with children and grandchildren.
  • Those adults below 65 who have neither had the virus nor have antibodies need to still be much more cautious with their social contact. They may leave home to attend to important matters, should avoid socialisation outside of the nuclear family, and be very careful to maintain social distancing and mask/glove use. Only essential visits to elderly at risk parents at this time, with very careful attention to all the above precautions.
  • Those over 65 who either have had the illness or have antibodies may likewise leave home for important business, but should exercise an added level of caution. They too can socialise with children and grandchildren, particularly those who have been ill.
  • Finally, and most importantly, those beloved older and still vulnerable members of Anash (of whom we have lost much too many!) who neither have had the illness nor have antibodies need to stay in place, with all the precautions taken up to now, except for visitation by children for the purposes of taking care of their needs. They should avoid groups of children/grandchildren where social distancing may break down. They may leave home in order to take care of essential matters, being exceptionally cautious to protect themselves with masks/gloves and strict distancing.

We hope and pray that moving forward, we will see no further new cases which will allow us to advance toward fully resocializing.

As regards Shavuos, we are thinking of ways for every member of the community, young and old, to hear the “Aseres Hadibros”. With the help of Hashem the wishes of our Rebbe in this matter will surely be accomplished.

  • For the sake of our community, anyone with new COVID like symptoms MUST fill out the following:

New COVID Registry

  • In addition, we’re asking you to isolate yourself and have any close contacts, who have not been ill yet, to quarantine themselves.
  • We cannot move forward as a community without being able to quickly identify and effectively contain new cases.
  • If you know of someone with new symptoms who may not have filled this out, please urge them to fill it out.

With fervent blessings for continued health in our community,

– The Gedaliah Society, in conjunction with Dr. Rosen

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