Answers to your Covid-19 High Holiday questions – J.
For the second year, Covid-19 made Jews who wish to attend High Holidays have to undergo a complicated risk calculation.
Is it safe to go to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Should I bring my children? The shofar, the horn whose sounds punctuate holy days, is it a potential vector of disease?
Last year, five months after the start of the global pandemic that killed more than 4.5 million people around the world, the answers were quite simple, so overwhelming: Stay at home, or at least remain masked and far away from each other. Anyone can be a carrier of the disease, and anyone can get it.
This year, the situation is more complex. Most American adults have been vaccinated, with the vaccination rate among Jews among the highest of any religious group, but children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination. For a small but noisy segment of Americans, the reluctant acceptance of masking last year has turned into antipathy this year.
Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Delta variant, along with evidence of potentially waning vaccine protection and emerging data showing that even vaccinated people can catch and transmit Covid-19, further complicate the picture.
“It will be a personal decision that will depend on many factors,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, rabbi and epidemiologist who spent the pandemic making medical information accessible to other members of his Orthodox community in suburban New York.
“What kind of synagogue will you go to, the incidence of vaccination in that synagogue, the incidence of risk factors in your personal family – is everyone vaccinated?” If they are, are they at high risk? There are a huge number of variables, ”said Glatt, who is the chief infectious disease officer and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere.
He added: “And it also depends on how much risk people are willing to take with all of these variables taken into account.”
So what is a Jew supposed to do? We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions on how to observe the high holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, round two.
Is it safe to travel for Rosh Hashanah or have someone come to see me?
The appeal of bringing together distant family members to share the vacation is undeniable. And we’ve learned a lot about how to manage risk during pandemic travel. So jumping on a plane may seem like a better idea this year than it was last year.
But there are a few caveats: a person who is vaccinated and goes to vaccinated people in an area where the vaccination rate is high is at less risk than if one part is not vaccinated or even if both. are, but there is a high level of community transmission.
Glatt advises people to consider “where you are going [and] the incidence of Covid in this region. In parts of the country, particularly in the south, hospitals are almost or even overcapacity amid the Delta-fueled surge. These may not be safe destinations when it comes to Covid-19 or any other health concerns that may arise while traveling.
The Centers for Disease Control advises Americans to delay travel until they are fully immunized, and even then wear a mask during shared transport. Unvaccinated travelers, including children, are advised to take a pre and post travel test and stay away from particularly vulnerable people upon their return.
Is it safe to go to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
Here again, context matters, as does one’s own risk tolerance. In a community where transmission is high and vaccination rates are relatively low, the risk of praying together in person is going to be higher than in a community where most people are vaccinated and there are relatively few cases.
Unvaccinated people are always at greater risk than fully vaccinated people: they are much more likely to require hospitalization or to die after catching Covid-19.
The synagogues you plan to attend almost certainly have policies in place that you can assess. You can also ask them for more information before deciding to participate.
What is their masking policy? A mask requirement provides low cost, low effort protection against transmission. It is also a good sign of a conservative approach to security.
Are vaccinations mandatory for eligible people? Some synagogues strongly encourage vaccinations, while others require them for everyone over 12 years old. Some even require participants to prove their vaccination by sharing their vaccination card in advance or at the door. (In some places, including Florida, requiring vaccination or asking for proof of vaccination is illegal.)
Are there prayers outside? Some synagogues move their services outdoors as much as possible, to open tents where transmission is less likely. Glatt says all communities should strive to provide outdoor options for people who feel more comfortable there.
Is the air circulating well? Since last year, it has become clearer that good ventilation is an important factor in preventing the spread of disease. Synagogues with good air circulation will provide safer experiences than synagogues with poor air circulation.
Many Jewish communities, especially the Orthodox, harbor a wide range of views on whether masking and distancing should be required at this point in the pandemic. Glatt says synagogues should advocate vaccination, calling it “the correct medical and halachic recommendation,” referring to Jewish law. But he also says he believes synagogues can safely accommodate people with a wide range of approaches to Covid-19.
“There should be areas where those vaccinated and affected should be able to [pray] with a mask, and everyone in that area should have a mask, ”he said. “At the same time, I didn’t recommend that everyone be masked in all situations and at every shul. I think there are people who might be uncomfortable with this for various reasons and we have to try to accommodate them as well. “
Should children under 12 go to High Holiday services this year?
Children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination in the United States; government approval for a vaccine for children is expected before the end of the year. This means that the children’s wards that most synagogues run on public holidays are effectively reserved for unvaccinated people, at a time when the Delta variant has raised admissions to pediatric hospitals to pandemic levels. It also means that the inclusion of children in adult services reduces the proportion of vaccinated people in the room.
Glatt described the question of whether and how to include children as an issue of concern, with no single answer.
“I think it’s a decision that every shul has to make, how they want to handle it. If you are dealing with an elderly population, having them sit next to younger children who are not vaccinated and wearing masks is a source of concern… I think this needs to be addressed, ”he said. he declares. “If you’re dealing primarily with a younger population, they’re mostly vaccinated, they’re willing to take a chance – it might be a different situation. “
Many synagogues organize their children’s services outside to mitigate the risks. But not all synagogues have this option, and in some communities, it may not be everyone’s preference. It could also be uncomfortably hot in much of the south in early September.
Glatt says parents should take appropriate precautions, but notes that many children are already in community settings while attending school, resulting in an equivalent level of risk. (Tens of thousands of children across the country have already spent time in quarantine this school year due to school exposures to Covid-19.)
“I think kids should be in shul,” Glatt said. “If this was the only situation they were exposed to, it might be a different story. But they get together anyway.
Is it safe to blow shofar into an indoor space?
Images of people blowing shofars with surgical masks on their openings became a visual mark of the summer holidays last year. This year, widely available Covid-19 vaccines and tests mean it’s relatively straightforward to make sure the shofar is not spreading the disease.
“If the person blowing the shofar is vaccinated and asymptomatic, you should be fine. Let him breathe, maybe not right next to everyone, ”Glatt said, noting that the person shouldn’t have known exposure to the virus either.
Some synagogues take their congregations outside to hear the shofar at the end of the service, rather than during it. To play safe, others are demanding a negative PCR test – the most reliable type of test on the market – for shofar blowers in the days leading up to the holidays.
What should I do if I find out that someone in my department has had Covid-19?
It is a realistic concern. If Rosh Hashanah were today, the virus is so prevalent in the United States that in some places there would be almost a 100% chance that a person in the room would have Covid-19 for any event of 100 people, a typical size for smaller -services than usual. This includes nearly every county in Florida, currently the hardest-hit state, according to an online “COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool»Produced by a team of researchers.
The CDC has clear guidelines on what to do if you are exposed to Covid-19 – what happens if you have spent more than 15 minutes in total in a 24 hour period near someone infected with the virus. You should get tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask when you are with other people until you test negative. If you get a positive result, you should self-isolate for 10 days, even if you don’t develop symptoms.
At the start of the pandemic, church services were identified as key vectors of disease in the United States and Israel, partly because some people continued to attend after reducing other contacts and partly because of the types. activities – including singing – this usually happens to them. Thus, following post-exposure recommendations could be essential to ensure that High Holiday services do not become spread events.
What if you found out that the person with Covid-19 was all along across the room during services? Does it count as an exhibition? Glatt’s response underscores the uncertainty that reigns as the Jewish world prepares to enter 5782.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “But it’s really unknown.”
Shira Hanau contributed reporting.