NEW YORK (VINnews/Daniel Berman, M.D.) — With great pain, we recently heard of two more grandparents attending two different weddings of their grandchildren, contracting Covid 19 and being niftar. I do not know the total count, but we have heard of more than a few other cases like this over the past year. It is gotten to the point where wedding halls are advertising “cages,” to protect the vulnerable.
If it has gotten to the point that grandparents have to be kept in cages, perhaps it is time to evaluate carefully how we celebrate Chasunahs and the Simchas that accompany them. I understand the incredible Simchah that a chasunah brings to the parents and family. It is years of hard work from the time the children are born to bring them to the point of a chasunah, for them to raise their children and pass on our Mesorah. Chasunahs have traditionally been celebrated together with friends and family.
However, it is extremely difficult to keep Chasunahs and their accompanying Simchas (Vorts, auf raufs, and Sheva Berachos), safe during this period of history, when the SARS Co-V-2 virus (Corona) is still infecting members of our communities on a daily basis. Although the vast majority recover quickly, unfortunately some individuals have succumbed to this virus. Although the medical care is dramatically better than it was Purim and Pesach time, we are still having Levayas related to this infection.
Strategies that have been used to safeguard yeshivas (to some extent in shuls) are not possible in Simchas. These include careful screening for potential exposures, especially when bachurim and avreichim spent some time outside of the yeshiva, and also careful screening for symptoms. There is also a unified sense of purpose to keep yeshiva going which makes it easier to rely on reporting of exposures and symptoms.
In wedding with many guests and two families, often with different outlooks on the whole Covid 19 (the infection caused by the virus) situation, it is impossible to screen in this way. In addition, the excitement is so great for a chasunah, that someone who has symptoms that could be related to Covid 19, might overlook them so as not to miss the chasunah. I know of situations where the Kallah, Chusun, or parents of either were heavily exposed just prior to the chasunah and rightfully should have been in quarantine, but just could not pass it up. In addition, often the symptoms are so subtle, that someone may not even realize that he could potentially have Covid 19.
Furthermore, the close physical contact which is part of a chasunah, combined with the loud singing and heavy breathing makes a chasunah a set up for multiple infections. One infected individual can easily come into close physical contact with so many on the dance floor or even just walking around. Aside from the chasunah, the vort often crowds many people into a small space. Sheva Berachos have families generally close together in an eating situation with masks off, where again many infections have occurred.
In yeshivas, if bochurum get infected, the danger is minuscule. At chasunahs, there are often many members of the older generation. The grandparents may be locked up in cages, but other family members of the same generation are generally not.
The cage itself is no guarantee of protection. It is open on the top generally. Sometimes, individuals will venture out for a short amount of time. It also should be known that masks are not fully protective. Based on studies of particles the same size of virus, it appears that masks will block the majority of these particles, but not all of them.
Another issue is the tremendous anxiety that the Simchas create for families. Often, one side looks disparagingly at those who are concerned about Covid 19. The other side might feel very bad about “schterring” the Simchah or may be very resentful about the attitude of the other side, but most importantly, extremely anxious about their safety for the weeks leading to the Simchah.
We are hoping the arrival of the vaccines will greatly alleviate the problem. So far, it appears that there is little risk in taking them, and significant benefit, even if not 100% protective. With the vaccines and whatever else Hakadosh Baruch Hu will do to stop the spread of the infection, we hope that soon life will get back to normal. In the meanwhile, we should strongly consider curtailing the Simchas drastically. We can discuss in further detail how to do this. Certainly, the number of people at the chasunahs has to be reduced. Risk should not be taken if there are individuals recently exposed. Dancing has to be modified. The Sheva Berachos have to be curtailed and modified to take into full consideration potential risk. Vorts should be smaller and again consideration has to be given to find ways to minimize risk.
Let us continue to Daven for all this to end. For now, we should carefully evaluate what our Hishtadlus requires. We do not want to see any more Simchah stained with sorrow.
Daniel Berman, M.D.