By: Lieba Nesis
The coronavirus has gripped the globe as Italy, the hardest hit country outside of China, recently approved $28 billion of spending for its battered economy. With a death toll of over 2,000 and almost 28,000 cases since the virus came to light in Italy February 21st, they have been ravaged by the highly contagious disease. Perhaps, the numbers are peaking, as for the first time in Italy cases increased just 13% to 27,980, the slowest rate of growth since the beginning of the pandemic. Northern Lombardy, the epicenter of the disease, is also one of the hubs of leather good manufacturing. The large number of Chinese traveling back and forth to this region for business is a partial explanation for the large amount of cases in this area.
Banning flights from China to Italy on January 31st was too little to late. Furthermore, the lackadaisical enforcement had many Asians booking connecting flights, so the area of departure was obfuscated. During the month of February, when large patients were arriving at Italian hospitals complaining of breathing symptoms, the health officials diagnosed influenza resulting in the sickening of many doctors and patients who were unknowingly interacting with others during the peak of the disease. Another hindrance was Italy’s laissez faire attitude, despite 23% of its population being over 65. Their failure to realize the gravity of the illness in the older population had them embracing and shaking hands way after they were warned no to.
Ironically, China, the origin of the outbreak, is now blocking flights from Italy, Iran and South Korea. As Italy runs out of hospital beds and respirators it is forced to make unthinkable choices as to “who shall live and who shall die”-a position no doctor should encounter. Many have claimed New York will be the next Italy; however, with its quick response in shutting down restaurants, schools and large scale gatherings it is hopeful this will not be the case.
Moreover, as the weather gets warmer the severity of the illness will hopefully decrease leading to less deaths and hospitalizations. The total cases in New York State is 950 with New York City reporting 463 with 7 deaths. However, as tests become more readily available, with more than 6,000 per day being administered, expect this number to go up tenfold. However, this should not engender panic, as many of the cases will be due to the increased capacity to test rather than to the surge of the virus. The important number to focus on is the number of deaths and those in critical condition which has not yet reached an alarming rate.
The Jewish community has unfortunately been hit especially hard with a 50-year-old lawyer from New Rochelle contracting the virus two weeks ago, with it now having spread to 220 people in Westchester County with a containment zone being erected one mile around the New Rochelle Synagogue. Some prominent Jewish figures are in our prayers including Rabbi Motty Katz, the chaplain at NYU hospital, who remains in critical condition along with Lawrence Garbuz from New Rochelle, and Dr. Maurice Dahan-the head of Zichron Menachem in France.
Some other victims of the disease with less severe symptoms include Rabbi Sholom Lipskar from Bal Harbour and Rabbi Reuven Fink from New Rochelle who is also doing “reasonably well.” Three members of the frum community in Postville Iowa have been diagnosed, as well as members of the Crown Heights, Monsey and New Jersey Jewish communities, with more than 25 cases in Teaneck. Frisch Yeshiva has close to a dozen cases, with SAR reporting over 29 and Yeshiva University similarly ontaining a cluster.
There are six attendees of AIPAC who have contracted coronavirus, and a CPAC member who attended the prior week’s Shabbaton in Washington with symptoms who has similarly been confirmed positive. As the Jewish community paradoxically celebrated the “Festival of Masks” (Purim) this past week during the height of an affliction containing surgical masks, it seems they have been unnecessarily tested during this stressful period. The tight knit nature of the community which has innumerable benefits in business, shidduchim and the like, has its downside during an epidemic when we continue to eat in the same restaurants, pray in the same edifices, and attend the same parties. It is pivotal during this critical time to limit gatherings, and socialization even in small groups.
When the disease subsides, it is necessary for us to take proactive steps for the future to ensure this type of out-of-control spread does not recur: including staying home when one is sick, washing hands often and forgoing a pat on the back or hug when attending synagogue. There might be a slim silver lining in all this misery, as IDF Spokesperson Gen. Hidai Zilberman recently informed the press of a decrease in enemy activity toward Israel from countries that have been hit harder than Israel by the coronavirus-a small consolation during these trying times.