White House official Avi Berkowitz held a conference call with New York Jewish leaders Tuesday, stressing the dangers of the new coronavirus and urging adherence to President Donald Trump’s safety guidelines.
Berkowitz, who serves as Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations and also Advisor to Trump’s Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, said he was speaking on behalf of the president and Kushner, and led the conference call with Rabbanim and organizational leaders from various New York communities, including Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, which have seen outbreaks of COVID-19. Several White House counselors participated in the call as well.
Though New York state is allowing gatherings of fewer than 50 people, the guidelines released Monday by the White House, which are not mandatory, urge people to adopt stricter measures for a 15-day period, including avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.
On the 40-minute call, Berkowitz urged the leaders to ensure that their communities understand the severity of the pandemic. He emphasized that while the virus is not considered dangerous for most young people, they can in turn infect older people, for whom COVID-19 can be deadly. Even with crowds of just ten people, he said, there is no certainty that people will stay far apart and practice proper hygiene/sanitization. Berkowitz therefore said that as a matter of pikuach nefesh, all mikvaos and shuls should be closed, and asked that people daven at home, without a minyan.
Below is a document the White House submitted to participants.