Yes, it’s me.
Like many news articles, there are facts, assumed facts, projections and innuendo to sell papers and serve as click-bait. Because coronavirus has captured people’s imaginations, it has become a wonderful vehicle to instill fear and capture headlines.
A friend of mine – who has mostly been kept anonymous by media outlets to protect the family’s privacy – has tested positive for coronavirus. The news media is correct that he lives in New Rochelle, is a lawyer and is in the hospital. His wife and son have also tested positive but are home and feel relatively fine as does the neighbor (lives on the same street, a number of homes away) who drove them to the hospital. Only the 50-year old lawyer is in the hospital as he had some prior medical issues which made him much more vulnerable to the strain.
It is also true that he attended the Modern Orthodox synagogue, the Young Israel of New Rochelle, on Shabbat February 22 and a funeral and bat mitzvah on Sunday February 23rd. It was there that he came into contact with many people who would later attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. the following week. Some of those people at the conference went on to lobby members of Congress, so AIPAC sent a warning memo to members of Congress.
This was done as an act of major precaution, and there is virtually no reason to fear.
The synagogue in New Rochelle is a large one. Many of the people who are now self-quarantined – myself included – were just in the same building or same room as the infected man. The term “contact” is sometimes used very broadly as it has been now to be the most cautious, but 99% of the people who attended services on February 22 and 23 were not within ten feet of the man and feel perfectly fine.
I attended the funeral at YINR on the 23rd, for a parent of a friend from elementary school and high school. I did not see the infected man at that time but was merely in the same 50 foot-by-50 foot room with him for an hour, as were my parents.
On Saturday February 29th, I decided last minute to go down to AIPAC when I learned of three guys from my shul in a different community in Westchester county driving down to D.C. with an empty seat. During the car ride I reached out broadly to see how I could register for the conference and find a place to stay. Coincidentally, the victim’s wife responded to me that she had cancelled her trip to AIPAC as her spouse was feeling sick; she suggested I try to book their Marriott hotel room. I was unable to get into that hotel which was adjacent to the convention center but found one a few blocks away.
No news about coronavirus in Westchester had broken at that time. I hugged, shook hands and conversed with several hundred people at AIPAC on Sunday and Monday, some of whom went to lobby in Congress. I did not lobby, and returned home Monday afternoon in the car with the same three men with whom I drove down. We got back to Westchester at 8:30pm.
Initial news of the virus in the community broke the following morning just before 7:00am as my son was getting ready to head on the bus to school. Additional information would flow throughout the day about who had gotten sick and the need to self-quarantine.
I have remained at home, as have my sons who attend two of the schools which were closed because of the virus. None of us has shown any signs of illness, but we are following the guidelines of the health commissioner as a matter of best practices.
Of course, I am not the only one who attended Young Israel of New Rochelle over the weekend of February 22/23 who then went on to AIPAC but I’m sure my story is fairly common: the “contact” we had with the sick man was neither close nor direct. That is true for my interactions with most of the 18,000 people at AIPAC and, in turn, the people at AIPAC with members of Congress.
But stoking fear and the urge for ad revenue seems too great for most. Don’t fall for it.
Please pray for the people who are indeed sick, including Eliezer Yitzchok ben Shifra.
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