Not a Time to Lower the Guard

A Hatzolah volunteer brings in a patient outside of a special coronavirus intake area at Maimonides Medical Center on May 4, in Brooklyn, NY. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As the corona crisis reaches the two-month mark, patience is wearing thin and frustration is understandably rising.

When this crisis and the ensuing lockdown first began, the minds of many in our community were on the then-upcoming Yom Tov of Pesach. It was a frightening and emotionally taxing time, as our community reeled from a constant barrage of devastating news. Indeed, those outside the Greater New York region cannot possibly fathom how badly the community here was hit.

With the conclusion of Yom Tov, a new rush of adrenalin filled many parents, as they grappled with the reality that their children were not returning to school any time soon. Much to their credit, parents — and in many cases, especially, the mothers — gave it their all. Working closely with educators who were going far beyond their call of duty, cooped up in tiny, crowded apartments, they exerted herculean efforts to make the best of an impossible situation. In the back of everyone’s mind was the hope that this was only a matter of another few weeks, and soon — very soon — everything would go back to normal.

Now, as parts of the United States, Israel, and some other countries slowly start reopening businesses, it is increasingly apparent — at least as far as New York City residents are concerned — that going back to life as we knew it in February is still a long way off.

B’chasdei Hashem, the number of new cases in New York has decreased significantly. As the numbers being reported within our community dwindle dramatically, there is a deep feeling of relief and gratitude to the Ribbono shel Olam. As more and more people in our community test positive for antibodies, a sense of complacency is growing as well.

While, indeed, we have much to be grateful for, this is not a time to lower our guard or cut any corners when it comes to fulfilling our appropriate and requisite hishtadlus. There are still hundreds of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths each day in New York State. Furthermore, the assumption that “everyone had it” is simply inaccurate. The testing that has so far been done indicates that only a minority of the general population have developed antibodies, and many within our community are testing negative for antibodies as well. While experts believe that those who do have antibodies may be “somewhat” protected, it is still unclear to what degree they are protected or how long that protection will last.

Further complicating the situation is word that New York state is investigating 85 reported cases in which children are experiencing an inflammation of the blood vessels, including, in some cases, inflammation of the heart. The symptoms are similar to Kawasaki disease, or toxic shock-like syndrome, and the inflammation has taken the lives of three young New Yorkers. The extent of the linkage between these cases and COVID-19 is still being researched, but it is yet another reminder as to how little we know about this virus.

It is vital that we continue to be vigilant, continue to follow all relevant governmental guidelines, and not make any assumptions on our own.

We have to keep in mind, when it comes to dealing with this crisis, that every country, city, and even every neighborhood is a world unto itself. American Jews cannot bring proofs or take guidance from what is transpiring in Israel, nor can people in California do so from their brethren here on the East Coast. The constantly evolving facts on the ground are so dramatically different.

In locations where governmental authorities permit davening with a minyan in shul, it is imperative that each tzibbur consult its own daas Torah as to specific guidance, and not draw conclusions based on what others have done.

We must continue to confer with reliable, credentialed medical authorities — and stay clear of self-proclaimed experts and quack remedies. While hot tea and chicken soup are always helpful in alleviating symptoms such as sore throat and nasal congestion, overdosing even on vitamins and nutrients such as zinc, or eating too much garlic, can have very harmful side effects. Some of the recommendations now being promoted as a cure for corona can be downright dangerous and should never be followed without the approval of a legitimate medical expert.

Finally, we have to make sure not to decrease our efforts in the most vital area of hishtadlustefillah. We must continue to daven to the Ribbono shel Olam that He should bring a refuah sheleimah to all those who are ill, protect us all from all harm, and heal all the shattered hearts.