UPDATE: November 26, 2020 – Addendum to recent ‘Lockdown’ communication
Dear fellow community members,
When we published recent guidance for the community regarding the current lockdown, we made reference to a shul limit of 10 individuals per building. Our guidance was based on clarifications we received from the Ministry of Health, unequivocally indicating their intent. We anticipated that the government would adopt the public health recommendations and did our best to inform the community in advance of the upcoming plan on that basis. Ultimately, the government presented a less stringent legal requirement. We sincerely regret any confusion this may have caused.
At this time, the interpretation of lockdown regulation that has been shared by the government is that the limit of 10 people pertains to each individual service.
The above underscores a point we have made in the past. We urge every shul to consider not only what is technically legal, but also what is safe. The scope of legally imposed restrictions do not always reflect public health opinion. In reality, it is difficult to provide guidance that would be appropriate to each individual shul, as variable factors should inform the plan for each shul. These include the size of the building, the number of individuals involved, and perhaps most importantly, the level of adherence of the membership to safe practices such as physical distancing, masking and hand washing.
We, as community members and healthcare professionals, commend those shuls and institutions who continue to operate with tremendous care to protect the health and safety of their members and the community.
We hope that our message promoted reflection, as individuals and a community, on the seriousness of the current lockdown and what we can all do to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We are entering a critical period of potential widespread community transmission when physical distancing, masking and hand washing are crucial, but will not be sufficient. Specifically, each of us can help limit the spread of COVID-19 within our community by taking it upon ourselves to: (1) avoid all unnecessary indoor interactions with people outside our household, (2) test and self-isolate when indicated, (3) de-stigmatize positive diagnoses (i.e. there is no shame in having a COVID-19 diagnosis), and (4) actively take on the responsibility of contact tracing if and when we become symptomatic and/or test positive.
We each have a role to play.
The Kol HaCOVID Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force remains committed to serving the health needs and interests of our community throughout these uniquely challenging times.
ORIGINAL MESSAGE: November 22, 2020
Dear Community Members,
As you know, the spread of COVID-19 has dramatically increased in the Greater Toronto Area in recent weeks, putting a strain on critical health care and public health resources which are currently nearing or already exceeding capacity.
COVID-19 continues to spread in the Jewish community as well, with cases among community members, in synagogues and in schools. This includes over 15 Jewish COVID deaths in the past several weeks.
Until now, we have all made significant sacrifices for the benefit of community safety. Universal masking, distancing and hand hygiene continue to be the mainstays of individual and community protection. However, at this time, these interventions are not sufficient and Toronto is moving into lockdown effective Monday November 23. Public health authorities have made it clear that all in-person interactions outside of our households must stop for the next 4 weeks – regardless of the protections in place. Exceptions to this include schools (K-12), some essential workplaces, and trips for essential supplies. While shuls have been permitted to operate recently with modified capacities, masks, distancing and barriers, the total number of minyan participants is now being limited to 10 people – with the same strict protections (masks, distancing, screening) in place. We acknowledge that these new restrictions will be challenging, especially for community organizations and institutions who until now have successfully implemented rigorous standards of infection control measures. However, the reality of the current crisis unfortunately warrants added precautions and increased vigilance.
With heavy hearts, we support these difficult measures aimed at keeping our community safe. These new measures will undoubtedly disrupt our individual and communal life. However, we must all do our part to actively lower local rates of COVID-19 spread at this critical juncture.
The following guidance from the province is critically important for the health and safety of everyone in Toronto. While it does not legally apply to those in York Region, we strongly recommend that the same guidance be followed in all GTA Jewish communities:
- No indoor contact between people who are not from the same household. This includes playdates for children, even if they are in the same cohort.
- Shul capacity, indoors or outdoors, be restricted to 10 people total per building.
- When performing any essential activity outside of home, continue to physically distance at least 2 metres, wear a mask properly at all times and wash your hands regularly.
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19 at any time (even mild cold symptoms), get tested at an Assessment Centre as soon as possible.
- If you test positive, strictly self-isolate at home for 10 days (this includes isolating from household members). Take it upon yourself as soon as possible to inform anyone you may have come into contact with from the 2 days before you developed symptoms, or two days before your test if you were asymptomatic.
- If you have come in close contact with a COVID-19 case, immediately self-isolate for 14 days from your last contact. We recommend that you get tested 5-7 days after your last contact with that individual in case you are an asymptomatic carrier, but even if you test negative, you must continue to self-isolate for the entire 14-day period.
Please note that public health authorities may not have the capacity or sufficient knowledge of our community to conduct exhaustive contact tracing. If you test positive, or are a symptomatic contact (probable case), it is critically important that you take it upon yourself to inform all possible contacts so they can self-isolate and get tested. There should be no guilt or shame in having a positive diagnosis. Protecting others, limiting spread and preventing harm is of utmost importance.
The purpose of the lockdown is the protection of the community. Attempting to circumvent the regulations or public health guidance, even with the best of intentions, undermines this purpose and puts individuals and community institutions at risk. For example, we strongly advise against people in Toronto traveling to York Region to attend minyanim where greater numbers of people are permitted.
We all have an important role to play in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at this critical time. Please continue to protect our community and the most vulnerable among us. Together, we have the opportunity to create a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. The coming weeks will be challenging, but IY”H we look forward to being able to gather together to daven and celebrate soon.
May Hashem protect us, grant us patience and keep us all healthy.
Chaim Bell, MD PhD FRCPC
Professor of Medicine and Health Policy Management & Evaluation, University of Toronto
Chief of Medicine, Sinai Health System
Ari Greenwald, MD FRCPC
Assistant Clinical Professor, McMaster University
Medical Director, Hatzoloh Toronto
Andrew Morris, MD SM FRCPC
Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, University of Toronto
Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship, Sinai Health System
Barry Pakes, MD, MPH, CCFP, DTMH, PhD, FRCPC
Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
Program Director, Public Health and Preventive Medicine Program