My objective over the past few days was to find good and encouraging news, or at least less bad news. These are difficult days and there is no question about that, but there just has to be some good news out there somewhere; after all, that is how things of this nature work, at least most of the time.
To date, the worst thing about all the medical rhetoric and directives regarding the best way to conduct ourselves so as to properly mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is the definitive indecision demonstrated by many of the doctors our community looks to for advice. In all fairness, they just don’t know enough at this stage.
The additional unique quandary in the specific case of our community is that our rabbinical authorities look to the physicians who are either qualifying or reversing what they said the day before, and we are looking to the rabbis for answers and direction for the future, which is precisely what is missing.
This is not a shortcoming on anyone’s behalf. If the doctors are uncertain and the rabbis look to the doctors, what can we possibly expect?
Dr. Marc Sicklick is the Village of Lawrence liaison to the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management. He is an allergist-immunologist and treats disorders of the immune system, including food, insect, and respiratory allergies. I was looking for good news, and while I did not completely find it with Dr. Sicklick, I did have a frank conversation that features good news — but in the long run rather than over the short term.
With eight weeks of hard experience behind us, the sacrifices we have made have begun to pay off and show good results, and that is exactly what we all need to hear. We all know that we are all in this together. Perhaps what we did not realize, at the start anyway, was that multiple components are involved in this unprecedented situation, all of which require consideration on various levels.
There is the top priority of the need to get a handle on the medical dimension of the damage done by the coronavirus. Then there are the economic considerations, which for many are just as vital, followed by a vicious political aspect to this global fiasco.
We know at this point that the quarantining and isolation implemented in our community by shutting our shuls had certain objectives from the get-go. These actions were and are flattening the curve on hospitalizations so that our healthcare system does not become overwhelmed or, as some anticipated just a few weeks ago, completely collapse.
Dr. Sicklick, who has been practicing medicine for over 40 years, says this does not end until there is a vaccine or a therapeutic drug or combination of drugs that can act as a cure for the virus. The good news is that both will happen eventually. The not-so-good news is that we are not there yet.
On the matter of how these necessary new behaviors will impact on our old taken-for-granted ways of conducting ourselves, specifically on shul-going, Dr. Sicklick says that he does not think that shuls will completely normalize for at least a year, though that does not mean that there will be no minyanim at all. One of the unique aspects about this virus and the situation it has spawned is the lack of precedence or guidance for where we go from here.
In all likelihood, nothing of an official nature will be happening immediately. There is a chance that, preceding the new goal line of May 15, there might be an easing of some of the restrictions, which will directly address the issue of davening with a minyan. At this point, two months into this life-changing situation, there is pressure to open up minyanim in a manner similar to the policy on opening up beaches in California. There is a disagreement presently as to whether current New York State policy allows gatherings outdoors of up to ten people, which would satisfy many of the minyan quandaries. Others assert that any gathering is currently illegal under any circumstance.
First and foremost, the key numbers are down, which in and of itself warrants changes. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom (Nancy Pelosi’s nephew) first opened up the beaches and then directly closed down half of them because he felt that the beachgoers were not adhering to social distancing directives. So what do you think happened next? The people who would usually go to the beaches that were now closed drove to the beaches that were open, thereby creating even more unsafe overcrowding.
That could conceivably happen here with our shuls, which means that we will need a uniform, across-the-board policy. This is not a suggestion that we get ahead of ourselves or the system because our appetite to once again daven together is so great. At some point in the next few weeks, the restrictions as they currently exist will be eased, which will be a good thing all around. What we do not need is for some shuls to endorse outdoor minyanim or socially distanced indoor services while other parts of the community won’t open at all. All that will accomplish is that people will be compelled to attend open minyanim, thereby potentially increasing the size of the crowds, just like at the beaches in California.
Back to the medical aspect of all this, I asked Dr. Sicklick about what happened in the hospitals that resulted in so many people being seriously ill and dying. Unfortunately, this matter comes under the heading of not being familiar with this virus and the proper and effective way of administering treatment.
Dr. Sicklick suggests that many of the hospitals were staffed with doctors and other healthcare workers who do not specialize in respiratory illnesses. A cardiologist or internist may have just followed what quickly became standard protocol, which meant that if a patient’s oxygen level dipped below a certain level, then even though the patient was lucid and able to breathe, many doctors still intubated.
As we pointed out last week, the doctors are now beginning to come to grips with the consequences associated with weeks on a ventilator. This includes upwards of 30% of patients experiencing kidney failure and others dealing with blood clots and cardiac issues.
Dr. Sicklick says he does not see how summer camps will be able to open this summer, mostly because he does not know how they will be able to secure insurance. As far as schools opening in the fall, the doctor says that he believes they will open, but the school day may have to occur in shifts, with some students attending in the morning and others in the afternoon.
So where is the good news in all this? Well, help is on the way in the form of medication and a vaccine and, with G-d’s help that will hopefully put an end to this nightmare.
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