(March 11, 2020 / JNS) As Jews around the world were celebrating Purim, the specter of life under a global epidemic in the form of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was becoming clearer and more concerning.
In a letter to supporters on Tuesday, the pro-Israel educational organization StandWithUs announced that a person who attended a reception during the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., from March 1-3 had tested positive for the virus. The news came as the number of AIPAC attendees having the coronavirus has now risen to five.
“… at this time, we are not aware of any other cases involving people who might have attended that evening’s event,” said the letter from StandWithUs executives Roz Rothstein and Jerry Rothstein. “Last week, we asked our staff that attended AIPAC Policy Conference to self-quarantine.”
Nationwide, more than 1,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, while the worldwide total has surpassed 120,000. More than 4,200 people have died as a result of complications from the virus, many of them in China, where it first originated.
According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 108 people in the Westchester town of New Rochelle have coronavirus out of a total of 173 people statewide. Because of the “cluster” or high incidence of virus in the town, he has authorized a “containment area” that, as of March 12, will effectively shut down schools, businesses and gatherings in a one-mile radius in the hopes to stemming the growth of the disease.
The containment zone was centered around Young Israel synagogue in New Rochelle, where hundreds of people from the congregation have already been under voluntary quarantine.
“We’re also going to use the National Guard in the containment area to deliver food to homes, to help with the cleaning of public spaces,” stated Cuomo. “There is a debate about how long the virus can live on hard surfaces, and you have differing opinions now. Some opinions are the virus can live on a hard surface, such as stainless steel or plastic, for two days or more. If that’s the case, that would be a significant issue as to why it is transmitting the way it does. So cleaning those surfaces is very important with the right material and the National Guard will be helpful on that.”
At a briefing on Wednesday, he also said the state will produce up to 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer per week, distributing it to the most impacted and high-risk communities, in addition to and state agencies.
Social distancing put into place
Elsewhere, an employee at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, Ohio—the educational arm of the local Jewish Federation—has tested positive for the virus. That employee attended the AIPAC conference.
In response to the news, the Mandel Jewish Community Center, also in Cleveland, announced that “as a precautionary measure and in concert with our Beachwood community partners, the Mandel Jewish Community Center is suspending public events effective today and until Monday, March 16. … To be clear, no one who has tested positive for coronavirus has been in our facility. We have not been contacted by the CDC and remain at a low risk. We continue to make every effort to protect our staff, members and guests.”
Beachwood has a significant Jewish population, as high as 89 percent, according to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 2011 population study, many of them Orthodox.
In New Jersey, students and faculty at the Frisch School, a Modern Orthodox high school in Paramus, will be observing “social distancing” after a student there tested positive for the coronavirus. Though not as severe as a quarantine, it means that people need to maintain a six-foot distance from others, stay at home as much as possible, avoid gatherings and limit public activity. The school had been closed since last Thursday and had originally been expected to reopen on Wednesday.
Also remaining closed are Yeshiva University in New York City, Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) in Riverdale, N.Y., and Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Additionally, Yavneh Academy, a preschool through eighth-grade school, is closed through the end of this week, while Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, Calif., is closed after a parent tested positive.
Jewish political events and the virus
Despite the many cancellations over the coronavirus, the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas is scheduled to go forward, including an address by U.S. President Donald Trump.
At the same time, fears over possible exposure to the virus at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) conference in Maryland from Feb. 26-29, were addressed.
In a statement, the Young Jewish Conservatives said that a CPAC attendee who was diagnosed with coronavirus attended the group’s Shabbat program.
“Immediately upon learning of the diagnosis and working in conjunction with CPAC organizers, we notified all Shabbat attendees and advised them to seek medical guidance based on the assumption that they may have had direct contact with this individual,” the group told Townhall. “Most of our attendees have been advised by health authorities that absent any symptoms they do not need to self-quarantine, although a minority have chosen voluntarily to do so.”
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