The resent outbreak of COVID cases in Lakewood has begun to show signs of slowing as the state continues to work with the community to subdue the present wave of infections.
After months of calm, as the summer came to a close cases began quickly multiplying by the week. In the days before Succos, there were well over 1000 symptomatic cases around town and an increasing number of hospitalizations.
While the full effects of Simchas Torah on the number of cases remains to be seen, over the past week, the rate of case increase has begun to level off with the number of symptomatic cases standing at several hundred.
Since the week before Rosh Hashanah, 130 individuals have been hospitalized, but Rabbi Yehudah Kaszirer, director of Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, said that 97 of them had since been successfully treated and released.
“People should not fool themselves into thinking that the virus is less any less dangerous than it was, but baruch Hashem there are much better ways to treat it and the medically vulnerable are taking more precautions,” he told Hamodia. “That makes it all the more important to seek care from a doctor or if need be a hospital immediately and not to take a ‘wait and see’ approach.’”
Prior to Succos, New Jersey state authorities expressed growing concern over Lakewood’s spiking COVID positivity rate which before Yom Tov stood at nearly 30 percent. Rabbanim and community advocates held several meetings with high ranking health officials, where representatives of the Heath Department stressed the importance of widespread testing in order to produce a metric based on a broad sampling of the town, not only those presently sick. Beginning on Erev Yom Tov, the state deployed thousands of free tests to Lakewood and the Igud Harabbanim urged the public to take part in the testing available.
The Igud was formed with the backing of the BMG’s roshei hayeshivah specifically do deal with COVID related matters. Its members are Harav Yaakov Ephraim Forsheimer, Harav Uri Deutch, Harav Chaim Mayer Roth, Harav Aryeh Sherwinter, and Harav Henoch Shachar.
The push for increased testing, which has already produced an estimated 6000 tests, has moved the positivity rate down to the low teens-which while a major improvement is still far off of the state’s rate of roughly four percent.
As students returned to school, the emphasis on testing moved there, with testing drives beginning to be held at larger mosdos with a plan to eventually work down to all institutions. COVID testing will also be required as well for all residents of Beth Medrash Gevoah’s dormitory before talmidim return next week.
“With the rates as they are the Governor is entitled to require our schools to close, but we communicated to him that even from a health standpoint, it is much safer to have them in the classroom than roaming the streets and he understands that. They understand this spike isn’t going to disappear overnight, but we’re working together to contain it and to keep the community safe,” Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey Director told Hamodia.
Rabbi Schnall mentioned that Governor Phil Murphy’s administration was appreciative of messages from Lakewood’s Igud Harabbanim for increased testing and recommendations for shuls over Yom Tov such as those that called for shorter hakafos and arrangements that would lower risks of viral spread.
“We’re very grateful to have a working partnership with the administration especially when we see how badly other approaches in other states have backfired and hope we can continue to beat this spike back,” said Rabbi Schnall.
Rabbi Kaszirer said that it was too soon to predict where the trajectory of the outbreak was headed, but hoped to have more clarity next week when the full effects of Simchas Torah can be evaluated. In the meantime, he urged the community to embrace the well know practices that can minimize the virus’ spread as well as ensuring that safe options for tefilah exist for everyone.
“We think and care about everyone in the community and part of that is making sure that there are outdoor and social distancing options for davening,” he said. “We’re not here to tell anybody what to do, but there are many people who are not immune and some who have multiple risk factors-there is no reason that they’re shouldn’t be ways for them to go about their lives and feel safe.”