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For American kids and adults, COVID-19 High Holiday safety questions answered

12 4 15

JTA — For the second year, COVID-19 has made it so Jews who want to attend High Holiday services must undergo a complicated risk calculation.

Is it safe to go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Should attendees bring children? Is the shofar — the horn whose blasts punctuate the holy days — a potential vector of disease?

Last year, five months into the pandemic that has killed more than 4.5 million people globally, the answers were fairly straightforward, if dispiriting: Stay home, or at least stay masked and very far apart. Anyone could be carrying the disease, and anyone could catch it.

This year, the situation is more complex. Most American adults have been vaccinated, with the uptake of vaccination among Jews among the highest of any religious group, but children under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccination. For a small but vociferous segment of Americans, grudging acceptance of masking last year has morphed into antipathy this year.

Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Delta variant, alongside evidence of potentially waning protection from vaccines and emerging data showing that even vaccinated people can catch and transmit COVID-19, further complicate the picture.

“This is going to be a personal decision that will be dependent upon many factors,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a rabbi and epidemiologist who has spent the pandemic making medical information accessible to others in his Orthodox community in suburban New York.

“What type of shul [synagogue] you will be going into, the incidence of vaccination in that shul, the incidence of risk factors in your personal family — is everybody vaccinated? If they are, are they high risk? There are a tremendous number of variables,” said Glatt, who is the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere.

He added, “And it also depends on the level of risk that people are willing to take with all those variables taken into account.”

So what is a Jew supposed to do? We’ve answered a few of the most frequently asked questions about how to observe High Holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, round two.

Is it safe to travel for Rosh Hashanah, or to have someone travel to me?

The appeal of getting far-flung family members together to share the holiday is undeniable. And we’ve learned a lot about how to manage risk during pandemic travel. So jumping on a plane may feel like a better idea this year than last year.

But there are some caveats: Someone who is vaccinated and heads to visit people who are vaccinated in an area with a high vaccination rate is at less risk than if one party isn’t vaccinated or even if both are, but there is a high level of community transmission.

Glatt advises........

© The Times of Israel

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