Normally I do not do sermons for Yom Kippur. However given that I hear widespread confusion engendered by the politicization of the pandemic, I am sharing now some of the words I recently shared with a friend and colleague who is intensely worried about the pandemic and this widespread confusion. Please know that the reliable epidemiologists do agree on what needs to be done – and has never been done.
Further if I read many of you correctly, the pandemic causes you the greatest angst because you have not been able to understand what proper epidemiological approaches are- whether or not there are treatments, cures, vaccines, or whatever. Perhaps some give equal weight to myths as to the words of respected trained professionals. If so the Rambam would have been most distressed with those folk...
As an epidemiologist [a Dr.], I know that there are specific protocols for dealing with a pandemic, protocols ignored by the administration. This is not opinion but rather scientifically based, fact driven procedures based on scientific observations of what works best in epidemiology.
Hence first, I want to describe the bare bones minimal medical wisdom: In order to fight a pandemic one needs to have three basic prongs: testing, tracing, and quarantine. Testing needs to be widespread, rapid, and frequent both to determine active cases and to determine who has already had antibody build up against the virus. For those who test active, quarantine is essential as well as thorough contact tracing to alert others they have been in contact with and to test them as well.
For those who have antibodies, they need to be monitored both to see how long antibody levels remain elevated and whether they show signs of reinfection happening. However no concerted effort was made to get adequate and proper testing capacity, adequate contact tracing, and adequate quarantining. We still do not have anywhere near what is needed in large part due to lack of funding.
Further, masks should be worn properly by everyone outside of their homes – and frequent hand washing. If in a multi-person home, a person testing active needs to wear a mask and stay away from others. Ideally there would be quarantine hostels/apartments/hotels for all who test positive so they would not risk infecting others in their household. Top medical experts have repeatedly stressed that masks are the most important aspect to our safety.
One needs to recall that no one method is perfect. For instance: A mask might leak if not 100% snug or if the person wiggles it around or moves it to be heard better. Hence there are no absolutes and never will be. We can only do our best to minimize exposures. A great part of that then falls on the individual to properly follow the health recommendations. Education to maximize understanding and implementation of these recommendations is also critical – and has not been funded adequately. Further it has been muddied by political myths and disreputable people claiming to be medical professionals but who do not have expertise in the area.
An example just happened in a congressional hearing when Rand Paul ‘questioned’ Dr. Fauci. Rand Paul is a non-practicing doctor who has not specialized in epidemiology and related. He also has political motivations. big time. One can tell by his inflammatory language. Fauci was on the defensive as he explained that he did the best he could with information he had and knowing that testing was minimal. However shut down was spotty. Home quarantine partial. Use of masks limited. Hence as more info came in, fine tuning of what needed to be done naturally occurred. Additionally he needed to factor in that resources were not made available to do what he originally recommended.
Some of you are hurting. I hear you. Lumping other concerns such as about bigotry into a question as to whether government interferes with providing adequate aid to those in need is not a rational way to approach the question asked. I suspect it is personal for many of you – as it is for me. However I try to stay focussed on the question – of how to do adequate Tikun Olam given the resources and conditions we have to work with.
Perhaps concerned folk should research the flu epidemics and the TB epidemic and other past epidemics. Also a history of Typhoid Mary might give further insights. Consulting with widely respected professional epidemiologists might also be helpful. Ask questions of people who are trained to have the answers- not sycophants to a particular ideology such as anti-vaccination folk, or gaia adherents, scientologists, or herd immunity idiots, etc.. For the last, Sweden decided to try for herd immunity and had highest morbidity and mortality of the Scandinavian nations. The highest scientific adviser later said as she resigned her post that she deeply regretted with going that way and causing needless suffering and deaths. [‘Herd immunity’ by itself is a form of natural selection...]
As for opening schools or not: rather than have federal health guidance, the decisions have been left up to the states and often the states leave it up to each school board. There has been no major effort to increase funding to enable adequate safety measures in the schools. During the TB epidemic of the 1900’s, school classes were moved outdoors and everyone wore masks. For us, testing, tracing, and quarantine need to continue. Indoors one would need physical distancing as well as masks, improved ventilation from the typical 3 full cycles per hour to 9 per hour, and a low student to teacher ratio. Again funding for these measures does not exist.
Certain groups of students cannot learn remotely. They should be the focus for the first return to school programs with adequate safety measures in place.
The disagreement among officials is most often politically based and has nothing to do with reliable medical advice. Restaurants and other indoor places were opened contrary to medical advice due to economic concerns placing profits over the lives of people.
As for PPE’s: there have not been adequate PPE’s available. Often the medical providers have to re-use items without any guaranteed way to safely decontaminate them and recycle them. Some equipment sent them was defective as well. Plus when these people are off-duty, there are additional ways they could be exposed to the virus outside of the work environment. I also have seen medical providers who apparently do not have a concept of proper sterility and isolation measures and hence put themselves and others at risk of cross-infection. [They would have flunked my micro classes.] So yes, some medical providers have died of covid-19.
One guiding voice needed to come from the Federal government, but has been quelled by the politics of the executive branch. Fauci and others do speak out on other forums.
As for viruses: viruses are parasites made of nucleic acids often coated in a protein envelope. When not in a host they are dormant and can not do any biological functions. When in a host, they hijack the hosts machinery to replicate the nucleic acid and to make various proteins that can cause severe adverse symptoms. Given that they replicate, they can be considered alive [but that will depend on how one defines life- however that definition is irrelevant. what is relevant is how they function.]. Disinfectant does not per se ‘kill’ them but rather denatures them so that they can no longer infect a host. De facto that amounts to ‘killing’ them as they no longer can replicate. Given the abysmal science education of the country’s people, language has been dumbed down by some of the various centers of information. Anti-bacterials are not what is used for disinfecting. Anti-microbials work against both bacteria and viruses as well as other microbials such as fungi and prions.
COVID is an RNA virus, a coronavirus. It acts differently than DNA viruses like influenza. It is related to the 2 previous SARS viruses.
I am happy to answer any of your concerns and questions or help find solid scientific resources for you that can answer your queries. As per Rambam: learning the facts of your generation is the best way to be able to interpret Torah – [and live a healthy, safe life...]
There are no definitive answers in life. In part that is why we pray on the High Holy Days that we understand that there are many ways a person can die but plead for our own deaths to be delayed until old age takes us. The ever present uncertainty factor... We can only control our lives up to a certain point. There are no guarantees as to the outcomes. The cumulative choices made by everyone will determine what happens to us and the world. We each only control a tiny part of that...
So we all feel unsafe to one extent or another. Hence we pray.
Gmar Chatima Tova
Shana Tova Tichateimu
If this information can be helpful to others, please feel free to share.
Blessings and Love
Shabbat Sukkot 5781
Sukkot IS Outdoors!
Now what a joy it is to realize
That Sukkot’s a holliday all outside!
While far distancing we can pray and more
Like shake the Lulav, observances’ core -
Do Sukkah hakafot should we desire
As we now share good weal we so admire.
Eating delicious meals becomes no chore
When positive wishes come through the door.
So YES to outside with guests we don’t hide:
RBG or grandpa, dead or alive!
Yom Kippur went well mostly online. A service with a memorial Yiskor section was done on the phone as was a final service with shofar blowing and Havdalah. Given volunteer help, our Sukkah is now up and ready to go. Physical distancing can be done outside so that eating the yummies without masks will be possible. The Sukkah will be available all week along with lulav and etrog. All are welcome to sit in the Sukkah, shake lulav, and eat goodies. Morning hours are best to avoid the heat.
Sukkot starts the evening of 10/2 through the weekend. Intermediate days are all the weekdays. We will beat willow branches to lose their leaves symbolic of our last sins on Friday morning, 10/9. The Eighth day of Assembly, Shemini Atzeret is on Shabbat. Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Torah is Sunday 10/11/20, complete with rewinding the Torah back to the beginning…
So Chag Sukkot Sameach and Shabbat Shalom! Be safe y’all!
High Holy Days Closing
We’ve beaten the willows until all leaves fell,
These symbols of our sins are hence gone as well
As we contemplate the memories of our dear dead:
Our lost parents, our teachers, our role models we’ve read…
We’ve prayed for ourselves to be sealed for a great New Year.
We’ve prayed that recalcitrant rains will promptly appear.
While the gates to the divine realm will soon be closed tight
We’ll start cycles anew, rejoice in Torah come night!
Bereishit 5781; Recycling; Bereishit 1-6:8; Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
Will Cain kill Abel once again
As history repeats itself?
Will Abel this time escape unscathed
Or will Cain prosper from Abel’s wealth?
It is as though life restarts anew
With every encroaching extinction.
The rich and the poor will all pass on.
Death will make ‘tween them no distinction.
Unless we can learn to work as one,
Our planet and lives will soon be done.
Will it be a deluge or massive fires?
We have no answers although we inquire…
Next week in Noach we’ll discover the outcome of the Mabool Flood, one possible answer to mass extinction… In the meantime be safe and