By: Stuart H. Ditchik, MD, FAAP
One of the questions clinicians have been inundated with is regarding travel to Passover/Pesach programs during the current Coronavirus outbreak. Quite frankly, we do not yet know what the numbers of infected will be in four weeks from now. We can only predict in general terms as we learn more about the degree of contagion. Let’s assume that there is an increasing number of cases and that the infection is will be nationwide at the time that Passover/Pesach falls out.
As the number of cases grows it is very likely that air carriers will be canceling and consolidating flights as people cancel their reservations. Once those flights go below 50% occupancy, most carriers will simply cancel the flight. Furthermore, airplane cabins are places that promote cross infection if a sick person is on the flight. The experts are currently advising air travel only when absolutely necessary. Thus getting to your Passover/Pesach program might pose a significant challenge if you plan on flying.
Hotel Passover/Pesach Programs
While we simply do not yet know the exact trajectory for the number of cases by the time Passover/Pesach arrives, many experts agree that there will be a large number of identified cases over the next month. This will pose a number of problems for those wishing to attend programs. The primary challenge is that attending a program is exactly in contradiction to the recommended “social distancing” during the outbreak. These programs generally involve large dining rooms and tea rooms along with staff that come from all over the United States and abroad. A single exposure in the crowded settings of these programs will likely result in a large number of people who will be impacted in the hotel. As guests start getting sick, so will staff. This creates a less than optimal experience for those attending as one might imagine.
In addition, every destination whether based in the United States or abroad has to answer to local health departments and agencies. If a hotel program has a number of cases or suspected cases, the local authorities will likely implement a quarantine protocol to minimize spread. There is no standard for this protocol currently and many locales are responding to these situations on a case by case basis. In other words, if your program suddenly has suspected cases, you might be isolated to that hotel for a significant quarantine period. Typically these quarantines last for 14 days but new cases in a hotel could extend those days significantly.
Many Passover/Pesach programs have a significant number of individuals 70 years and older. These individuals are the highest risk for serious complications. While families with young children might do very well if a hotel outbreak occurs, seniors will likely not be as fortunate. Taking into account those in our communities who will be most threatened by this infection is very important.
Taking all of these facts into account, traveling this Passover/Pesach is simply not feasible as things stand today. While there could be a cessation in the number of cases by then, it is unlikely. I suggest that everybody make alternative arrangements in the event that they cannot travel.
Stuart H. Ditchek, MD,FAAP is a faculty member at the New York University School of Medicine