The day after Yom Kippur, the recent surge of COVID cases in Lakewood has continued to rise, with well over 1,000 infections.
The uptick in cases has been ongoing for roughly a month, but exploded into hundreds of new cases daily over the past two weeks. Presently, there are more than 20 members of the community who have been hospitalized. Between Yom Kippur and the following morning, two Lakewood COVID patients who had been hospitalized passed away, Moshe Hariri, z”l, 46, and an 80-year-old man, whose name had not been made public in time for publication.
Rabbi Yehudah Kaszirer, director of Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, who has been closely involved in the community’s response since the initial outbreak described his level of alarm as “medium to high.”
“Unfortunately, we are very concerned that this is starting to look like a repeat of what happened in March,” he told Hamodia. “The numbers are steadily going up and show no sign of coming down, and with the number of positive cases out there, the virus has more fuel than ever.”
The Roshei Yeshivah and Rabbanim of Beth Medrash Govoha had circulated a letter two weeks ago noting the sharp rise in cases and urging the public to take precautions. This past week, the Igud Harabbanim released a new letter reiterating the urgency of the situation.
“We are seeing a tremendous increase of illness, with those who are ill spanning all ages. While the incidence and risk of serious illness remains low among younger people, we are now seeing more hospitalizations in the older and at-risk populations…Hatzolah is also reporting a dramatic increase in COVID-19 calls; the calls are not limited to the elderly and infirm,” read the letter in part.
The letter urges increased tefillos as well as hishtadlus in the form of adherence to the recommended guidelines.
“We need to change the way we are reacting to the virus. The more infected people there are, means the potential for spread grows exponentially. Because of this, the virus is spreading in ways that it would otherwise be unable to, and infecting people it would not otherwise infect. It is not enough to simply rely on the ability of those who are high-risk to protect themselves — in the current climate we are seeing the virus infect even some of those who are trying to be careful.”
The letter emphasizes two key recommendations. Firstly, for the elderly and high risk to “remain at home as much as possible,” and to consult a doctor before venturing out as to whether such a move should be made and if so, with what precautions. The second is that anyone regardless of age to fully quarantine themselves if they are experiencing any COVID symptoms or if they have been exposed to someone ill with the virus. Those who have been exposed are instructed to isolate themselves for 10 days from the time of exposure regardless of whether they have a positive test result or not or if a test is pending.
The letter is signed by the members of the Igud Harabbanim, shlita, Harav Yaakov Ephraim Forsheimer, Harav Uri Deutch, Harav Chaim Mayer Roth, Harav Aryeh Sherwinter, and Harav Henoch Shachar.
Over Yom Kippur, several shuls took additional steps to curb the virus’ spread by encouraging mispallelim to wear masks. In such shuls, Rabbanim themselves donned masks for the duration of tefillos and many hung signs asking even those with positive antibodies to do so as well so as to break any hesitation other mispallelim might have in following suit. With less than a week of school left before Sukkos, several schools for girls closed early in order to minimize the number of infections in classes.
A letter circulated by several Lakewood physicians, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dr. Allen Lempel, Dr. David Ogun, Dr. Tamar Green, and Dr. Israel Cofsky recommended to daven only at outdoor minyanim and to carefully practice social distancing. The doctors added that they expected such precautions to be necessary for the next six weeks.
Rabbi Kaszirer said that it was imperative for the community to do its utmost to adhere to the well-known recommendations for curbing the virus’ spread such as social distancing and wearing masks as well as for anybody who suspects they might be carrying the virus to fully isolate themselves.
“Based on what we are seeing, there is zero indication that this virus does not have the severity that it did during the first wave, but baruch Hashem, we are seeing fewer people in the same level of danger because they are able to get proper care right away,” he said. “Now is the time for us to take all the precautions that we have learned about to prevent this outbreak from continuing.”