While there are so far only two cases of COVID-19 – more commonly known as the coronavirus – in Minnesota, local Jewish organizations are making plans just in case.
On a conference call Monday morning with the Jewish Community Relations Council Director of Community Security Dan Plekkenpol, local organizations are following the situation closely, particularly with respect to travel and large gatherings and plan to stay in regular communication about any developments with the potential to impact Jewish communal activities. The only thing of note that has been canceled so far is the alternative spring break trip to Israel that is sponsored by Minnesota Hillel and Partnership2Gether.
“What different communities are doing, and specifically synagogues, appropriately vary from community to community as this has taken shape differently,” said Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Aaron Weininger, who talked about what communities that are harder hit by the virus are doing as it pertains to large social gatherings. “Different synagogues are setting up practices, ranging from what happens when there’s a funeral to shiva minyan. These are things for us to be mindful of not to get panicked about, but just to be aware of how other communities that are in the thick of it right now are addressing those kinds of needs.
“Synagogues are trying to maintain a calm presence and make no solid decisions about programming that’s neither over-reactive nor under-reactive.”
Sholom CEO Barb Klick said that this is far from the first virus that communities have had to deal with – particularly for an organization like hers that focuses on the senior community.
“The coronavirus has been around for many years and many of us have lived through the avian flu; we had SARS in 2003. we had MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, in 2015. So the coronavirus is not new,” she said. “The difference is when we had the avian flu, and SARS, and MERS, the mortality rate was so high that people died and it was not passed around. The most dangerous thing about this COVID-19 virus is that about 14% of the population has no symptoms, thus this fear, and that we’re going to see more of this.”
Klick, who has worked as a nurse, shared a useful technique with the call.
“Another common sense thing is to declare your left hand to be dirty and your right hand to be clean,” she said. “So when you’re moving through public spaces, and elevator buttons, and so on, where you cannot always wash your hands, you just use your left hand. And then if you do need to touch your face or get a piece of gum or a cough drop out of your purse, you use your right hand.
Klick said that because the residents of Sholom aren’t leaving, she needs to make sure she has staff that are willing to come to work and serve them.
“We also can do some reverse things for our residents, like Skyping with visitors, putting out more and more hand sanitizers and so on,” she said. “Also, as we’ve done with influenza, sometimes we have to close some of the dining areas. If some of our residents are ill, we ask them to stay in their own rooms. We may limit visitors. We’re just going to kind of follow it case by case. So we’re kind of in high alert to say this is coming and we have a very vulnerable population.”
Two other significant Jewish programs that have been affected are the postponement of the annual March of the Living, which brings more than 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish teens to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and then to Israel, and Birthright trips, which have been canceled for the first time in the program’s history through at least March. Israel is also enacting a two-week quarantine period for all arrivals from abroad.