Are weddings behind the COVID-19 spike in NY Orthodox neighborhoods? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 13, 2020

Rising fears about a second wave of coronavirus cases in New York Citys Orthodox communities appear to be coming to pass, with the proportion of tests turning up cases of the disease more than four times the citywide rate in one heavily Orthodox neighborhood in newly released data from late August.Meanwhile, rising cases in New Jersey, Baltimore and other areas with large Orthodox populations represent a threat to in-person instruction at local Jewish schools, many of which reopened last week, as well as plans for in-person services for the High Holidays.

And even as many Orthodox leaders are exhorting community members to follow public health recommendations to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, others say they intend to flout rules designed to stop the spread of the disease.

In a video taken at a wedding Sunday where unmasked guests appeared in the background, Borough Park activist and radio host Heshy Tischler vowed to attend a wedding every night no matter what restrictions Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio impose.

Go drop dead, Cuomo, go drop dead, Mayor de Blasio, said Tischler, who this summer cut the chains off local playgrounds alongside local Orthodox politicians in defiance of the mayors orders to keep playgrounds shut. Youre not coming into my neighborhood, were going to do whatever we want.

In recent days, we have observed heightened rates of COVID-19 in many neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish populations, Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York Citys health commissioner, wrote in a letter to local Orthodox media outlets Sunday. Chokshi pointed to increased positivity rates in Borough Park, Midwood, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Forest Hills and Far Rockaway in Queens.

The neighborhoods experiencing transmission were particularly hard hit in the worst weeks of the pandemic this past spring and we never want to return to those awful days, Chokshi wrote.

According to charts prepared by the citys health department, the spikes in positivity rates in New York Citys Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods appear to begin around Aug. 15.

Thats no coincidence, said Dr. Stuart Ditchek, a pediatrician in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. The period known as the three weeks, in which Orthodox Jews do not hold weddings, ended after Tisha Bav, a fast day, on July 30. The period between then and the start of the High Holidays is typically a time in which lots of weddings are held in Orthodox communities.

Since Tisha Bav, when the weddings started, we started seeing a large number of cases, said Ditchek.

Many in the neighborhoods spent the summer operating under the assumption that widespread sickness in the spring had conferred some protections going forward. The resumption of weddings and often crowded in-person synagogue services without an accompanying uptick in disease early in the summer reinforced that sense of safety for many.

But the data from New York Citys health department is the latest in an increasingly dense series of warning signs.

Doctors in Orthodox communities started seeing slight upticks in cases last month, with some coming from summer camps, bungalow colonies and weddings. Branches of Hatzalah, the Jewish ambulance corps, issued warnings of increased COVID-related calls and hospitalizations in Rockland County and Brooklyn.

One large Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn noted many new cases in its Borough Park neighborhood, with some even being treated in the intensive care unit. Several Jewish day schools in Bergen County, New Jersey sent out notices in the first week of school informing parents of students who had been exposed to confirmed COVID patients and were sent home to quarantine.

Rabbinical councils in Baltimore, Maryland; Bergen County, New Jersey; and Cleveland, Ohio have all warned of the effects of large weddings. An open letter from 138 local Jewish doctors in Long Islands Nassau County connected new local cases to large weddings and asked the community to trust in medical professionals.

Compounding the rise of large weddings is the fact that, in some communities, relatively few people attending them wear masks. While some doctors in these communities have noted a sense of fatigue from abiding by restrictions for the past six months, one of the doctors who organized the letter from Long Island physicians noted an anti-mask sentiment rising in some communities.

Ditchek is particularly concerned about his community in Midwood, where the health department noted a positivity rate of close to 4% in part of the neighborhood. A group of local doctors from the Syrian Jewish community, which is concentrated in Midwood and Deal, New Jersey, released a letter last week noting over 100 new infections in Deal last week.

Because of the decrease in number and severity of cases, many of us have stopped keeping the precautions that caused the infections to decrease since the spring, believing that the threat is gone, they wrote. But as we continue to monitor the number of positive cases in our community, we have a dramatic increase in infections over the last two weeks; there have been over 100 new infections in Deal, NJ this week alone.

Ditchek worried that those cases could seed new ones in Midwood as Brooklyn residents with summer homes in Deal return home for the school year.

You can see why this is a conglomeration of events thats really troubling to the health department, said Ditchek.

Ditchek warned that the safe continued functioning of schools was the most important issue at stake in controlling the new infections in New York Citys Orthodox communities.

I think if we are very vigilant, we can still put this thing to sleep, said Ditchek. If the cases continue to accelerate at the rate were seeing this week, its going to make for a very difficult time right around the Yom Tovim [holidays].

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Are weddings behind the COVID-19 spike in NY Orthodox neighborhoods? - The Jerusalem Post

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