An increase in coronavirus cases in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway has led to temporary closings of private schools and questions from some residents about whether safety protocols are being followed.
Yeshiva Darchei Torah and the Torah Academy for Girls, in Far Rockaway, private schools with a number of students from the Five Towns, were both temporarily closed by the New York City Department of Health. Yeshiva Darchei Torah was closed on Sept. 15 after there were 13 reported cases at the school. It was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, after the Herald went to press.
Torah Academy for Girls sent a letter to parents on Sept. 23, saying that the school had been closed by the Health Department. The school’s dean, Rabbi Meyer Weitman, said that the closing surprised school officials.
“At 9:30 this evening, we received a phone call from the NYC Department of Health ordering that the school be closed effective immediately,” Weitman wrote. “We have not been provided with any specific details as relates to the reasons, causes or duration of the closure.”
In a Sept. 25 news release, the city Health Department explained that it issued a Commissioner’s Order to six private schools in Queens and Brooklyn, including Torah Academy, to follow Covid-19 safety protocols. Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said that schools that did not would face fines of up to $1,000 and possible closures.
“This may be the most precarious position with Covid-19 we have experienced in months,” Chokshi said in a statement, “and we must immediately take action to protect our communities. Protecting against Covid-19 requires a group response. It is critical for us to follow public health guidance.”
The Lawrence School District announced in a district-wide letter on Tuesday that a staff member at Lawrence Primary School had tested positive for Covid-19. The building will remain open.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, a Woodmere resident and the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, sent a letter to Five Towns residents on Sept. 24. “Each one of the Five Towns falls in the highest new case incidence numbers for Nassau County,” Glatt wrote. “Lawrence holds the number one spot in the County for the last 8 weeks, with Cedarhurst 3rd, followed by Great Neck 4th, Woodmere 5th and Hewlett 6th.”
According to the Nassau County Department of Health, there were 730 cases of Covid-19 in Woodmere, 400 in Inwood, 365 in Lawrence, 254 in Cedarhurst and 235 in Hewlett as of Tuesday.
Glatt noted that he believed the increase was caused by people who were disregarding safety protocols. “Maine public health officials just published a shocking report of an August 7th wedding in Millinocket, Maine,” he wrote in the letter. “At the wedding, guests ignored social distancing guidelines and mask recommendations. The results: 135 guests got Covid-19, with seven guests dying from this wedded bliss exposure.”
A letter of response was released online on Sept. 25, its source identified only as “Many Really Disappointed Members of the Community,” disagreeing with Glatt’s analysis. “The DOH, [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio, and [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo have been using the threat of school closures and further lockdowns to keep us at bay,” it read. “Our schools are open, public schools are shut. Of course we are seeing an uptick of Jewish children with Covid while the uptick is less pronounced among non-Jews.”
Yet another follow-up letter, dated Sept. 26, was released online by “Concerned Members of the 5T Community” who explained the reasoning for the letter the previous day. “We end with a plea to our fellow friends and neighbors to please try to come together,” it read. “Let’s aim to raise each other up rather than tear each other down. We are all supposed to be on the same team, even if we look a little different or have different opinions.”