To the members of the Passaic-Clifton Community שיחיו,
The ultimate outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is ביד הקב׳׳ה. Yet, we remain obligated to fulfill ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם by doing do what we can to mitigate the spread of disease, suffering and death due to the pandemic.
The Passaic-Clifton Community – under the leadership of its Rabbonim and Askonim and with the support and agreement of the Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Meir Stern שליט׳׳א – was proactive in implementing aggressive social distancing measures well before State and Federal regulations mandated these measures and well before they were adopted across the greater regional Jewish community. As painful and devastating as our losses have been, these measures appear to have played a critical role in preventing, ח׳׳ו ,far more serious illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19.
The number of new COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals and deaths is showing early signs of slowing. This is encouraging, but must be considered in the context of established patterns of pandemic infectious disease where resurgence of infections is the rule in the wake of initial declines. It is thus most likely that additional increases of infections, hospitalizations and deaths will follow periodically for the foreseeable future. It is impossible to predict where or how the pandemic will play out, especially since widespread testing is not available, leaving the number of infected persons residing in the community completely unknown.
In light of the likelihood of resurgent infection and its deadly consequences, it is essential that the community maintain social distancing practices and NOT rush or push to modify these lifesaving rules. To maintain the health and safety of our community, the Task Force recommends:
- NO change in social distancing practices should take place. This means that NO gatherings should occur:
- NO minyanim
- NO playgroups, even informal gatherings of children on the block
- NO kiddushim
- NO inviting of guests from within or outside of the community
- NO travel other than grocery and pharmacy shopping as infrequently as possible
- Masks should be worn by everyone when out in public. When possible, this should be
done with children from age 2. The mask must cover your nose and mouth at all times.
- Testing Scams: Be aware that at the present time, no validated test can confirm that you are safe from catching the virus or from infecting others. No test should be the basis for ending quarantine or relaxing social distancing unless approved by a knowledgeable physician.
We are restating in unequivocal terms that the ban against all minyanim remains in place in the Passaic-Clifton community, without any exception whatsoever. Any easing of this prohibition would be, at the very minimum, a safek pikuach nefesh, endangering the participants and dramatically increasing the likelihood of illness and loss of life in our community. Notwithstanding any policy of another community to the contrary, every resident of Passaic-Clifton must adhere to the safeguards that are essential for the protection of us all.
When will we get back to normal?
Reopening normal activities across business, education and others areas is known to entail a delicate balance between the benefits of returning to normal life and the very real risks of a new surge of COVID-19 cases and additional deaths. Experts are carefully addressing this risk-benefit calculation to advise public policy. The John Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Health Security published Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors. This document contains many points particularly relevant to the situation of our community:
- The experts acknowledge the “great anticipation of the possibility of returning to a sense
of normalcy” and of immense pressure on leaders to “get back to business as usual”.
- The experts are clear that we are still in the period BEFORE the transition to normal can
begin and that once it does, this transition will be a stepwise long-term process, not a
quick return to everything as it was.
- The experts delineate criteria for “considering” reopening, which will require at least
additional weeks to be achieved and none of which have been met as of today.
- The experts warn that premature opening, even in a limited manner, might cause
unintentional harm, a surge in infection and the need to reinstitute large scale physical
distancing once again.
- The experts underscore the need for communities to consider reopening in light of their
unique circumstances, including social features that could increase the likelihood and
worsen the consequences of a surge in COVID-19. The Passaic Clifton COVID-19 Task
Force identified early on, that an Orthodox Jewish community is more susceptible to the
spread of epidemic disease due to our close interactive community lifestyle. Based on this awareness and with the guidance of the Rabbonim and Rosh HaYeshiva שליט׳׳א ,the Task Force moved to close our schools, shuls and other institutions even before the government mandated it. Boruch Hashem we have seen positive results from this approach and the נפש מסירות of the community that is exemplified by its strong adherence to the Task Force guidelines.
We fully recognize the burden and distress that these restrictions cause to individuals and
families. However, we are challenged at this time to find the fortitude and resilience to do what is right בעיני אלקים ואדם and emerge with the knowledge that we did everything in our power to save lives and prevent further tragedy. We will redouble our efforts to provide the critical resources and support to help everyone through this difficult time.
As the situation progresses, we will continually reassess the risks and determine when some of the constraints can be relaxed. When that occurs, I”H ,the process will be gradual and occur over a prolonged time period. However, now is the time to redouble our efforts to confront the spread of COVID-19, not to prematurely look for a quick way out. While we are all eagerly anticipating the time when we can return to our Batei Knessiyos and Batei Medrashos and resume a sense of normalcy, this must be done with caution and deliberation, informed by and in consultation with experts. We cannot afford the luxury of careless error or miscalculation. We implore our neighbors to do the right thing for everyone’s sake.