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Quarantined But Still Connected: Young Israel Congregant Reflects on Outbreak

FrontdoorWhat’s it like to be quarantined inside New Rochelle’s containment area? This week Governor Cuomo made an unprecedented announcement, ordering a circle with a one- mile radius had been designated a “containment area” and that the National Guard would come in to distribute food and clean and sanitize.

Cuomo was following the advice of State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker who recommended this step to stem the spread of the virus after cases jumped up by 10 in just one day. We spoke to a member of Young Israel Synagogue where the original outbreak occurred. She shared news about her congregation of 800 people and explained how members are dealing with the outbreak and the aftermath.

Lisa Bernstein of New Rochelle was surprisingly open as she explained how her community was quickly overtaken by the virus, and what has occurred in the weeks since that time. In a community that is accustomed to praying, eating, celebrating and mourning together, the Coronavirus has struck very hard. Their synagogue was suddenly shuttered and temple members were prohibited from meeting, praying together or gathering in any way.

But putting aside the social isolation, many have tested positive with the virus. Of the over 800 congregants, Bernstein said the majority are quarantined, with many infected and asymptomatic. Of those who have symptoms, she says most have been managing at home. Sadly a few have been hospitalized.

No one know where Lawrence Garbuz, the first to test positive in the synagogue, contracted the virus. He was present in the synagogue during the weekend of February 22 before there was general awareness about the virus. By the following weekend, Garbuz and several others had contracted the virus and unknowingly attended services again. Garbuz remains in the hospital.

Bernstein herself was out of town during the weekend of February 29-March 1. However, when she returned she was exposed to a friend who tested positive. Bernstein has no symptoms and has been unable to obtain a test so she and her husband are self-quarantined for the 14 days.

As it has been difficult to get tested we asked Bernstein how the testing occurred. She explained that the Department of Health has come to the homes of people who met the criteria for testing. They appeared in hazmat suits. However the results have been slow in coming back, with some waiting five days to find out if they have the virus. Bernstein says that the reason the numbers look so dramatic is that unlike other populations, this group is getting tested. She guesses that if other groups were tested, they might find that the infection rate is equally as high.

Are people complying with the quarantine? Bernstein said that yes, absolutely. People are taking the instructions very seriously and following the instructions from the Department of Health. Markets like Seasons and other kosher food purveyors have been very generous and are delivering food for free. Friends are reaching out and the community is very grateful that food has not been a problem.

When will they be able to return to their usual routine? Bernstein says it’s unclear. Will those who are infected need to be cleared to go out? Those directives have not yet been established and she is not aware of the protocol.

Despite this huge disruption in her life, Bernstein was calm and reflective. She said the congregation shared a virtual Purim celebration this past weekend and she is in touch with family and friends online and via text. She is doing some work from home and feels fortunate that she can use the internet and phone to stay connected.

Most of all she is grateful that neither she nor her husband are sick for now. She says, “If you have your health you have everything. I am keeping my eye on the prize …. summer and no virus!”

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