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Taking precautions as coronavirus outbreak grows

Five Towns groups, schools and shuls following experts’ advice


From cleaning prayer books to adhering to the advice of medical experts, the organizations, schools and synagogues in the Five Towns are working to ensure members, school personnel and students, and congregants do not become infected with the coronavirus.

Coronavirus, also being called COVID-19, is a virus that is spread primarily from person-to-person; between people who are within about 6 feet and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Across the Five Towns, organizations, school and shuls have sent out letters to advise on how to remain healthy during the outbreak that as of press time has 13 confirmned cases in Nassau County.

Rabbi Hershel Billet, leader of the Young Israel of Woodmere, the largest Orthodox congregation on the South Shore said that synagogue leadership is “relaxed and trying to keep the public calm and well informed.” 

“We have advised them to follow conventional medical advice and to listen to the Board of Health,” he said. “We have shared the standard methods and care people should take with personal hygiene and interpersonal meetings or gatherings. We have added hand sanitizers to our facilities. Services continue as scheduled and life goes on. If we must take further steps we will do as instructed by the government, Board of Health and physicians.” 

At Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, Rabbi Claudio Kupchik was also took an unruffled approach saying he sees no reason to panic, while also noting that it is the proper time to increase awareness and be proactive about averting infectious diseases.

“We are attentive to what are the best practices advocated by our government and sister congregations, and will update or change our policies, accordingly,” he said. “We are also advising our people not to touch and kiss the mezuzah but rather air kiss if they wish.”

Temple President Bob Fischman added that the synagogue will be cleaning its prayer book. “It’s important to note all this is done in a proactive and precautionary effort with the sensitivity to avoid conveying any unnecessary and unfounded sense of panic,” he said.  

In care of her other administrators, students and teachers, Dr. Ann Pedersen, superintendent of the Lawrence School District, said that the biennial trip to Disney World for March 13 to 15 has been postponed, but will be rescheduled. She said that the district will wait until at let March 16 to set new dates for the trip.

“We continue to emphasize all winter cold and flu protocols, including frequent hand washing, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, covering your mouth with a sleeve when coughing or sneezing,” she wrote in a Feb. 28 letter sent to parents.

The Hewlett-Woodmere district, offered similar advice after sending out a letter on Feb. 6, district officials updated information in a Feb. 28 that noted staff met with the district’s physician, Dr. Brian Blinderman on precautions, which included avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth and contact with people who are ill.

“It is important to know that all of our school nurses have been informed and trained on the latest recommendations and protocols from the CDC,” Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr., stated in the late February letter.