Cover-up: Doing our part to combat COVID-19

My fellow Orthodox Jews, I respectfully urge you to do better and take the pandemic more seriously.

Ultra-Orthodox residents walk through of the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, August 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Ultra-Orthodox residents walk through of the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, August 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Masks save lives. As we attempt to go about our daily routine amid a pandemic, we should keep those three words foremost in our minds. After more than 230,000 confirmed cases in Israel and 200,000 deaths and more than 7,000,000 positive cases in the US, you would think more people would understand the importance of wearing masks to combat COVID-19. However, as we see all too often, countless individuals apparently did not get the memo.
While a political and ideological debate rages regarding mask-wearing mandates, it seems quite clear the science suggests that regularly wearing a face covering over one’s nose and mouth is an effective way to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The efficacy of wearing a mask is rooted in both research and common sense. Take a moment and ponder how the virus spreads. When people talk, sneeze or cough, respiratory droplets are released into the air, which then linger in the form of fine particles. Masks significantly minimize the dissemination of these particles into the atmosphere, thereby lessening the risk of propagation. Furthermore, considering that many people infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic and therefore may not even realize they are sick, regularly wearing a mask while around other people is critical to curtailing the transmission of the virus.
Masks protect you and masks protect me, and the refusal to wear a face covering is irresponsible and ill-advised. Simply put, the selfish decision to interact with other people sans a mask is unnecessarily jeopardizing their health and safety.
With a frightening uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Orthodox Jewish community, there has been much discussion about the lack of mask wearers in large pockets of our respective neighborhoods.
It has been distressing to see how lax certain communities are when it comes to wearing masks. The “masks are required for entry” signs on stores are regrettably ignored by far too many people, who inexplicably view them as mere suggestions rather than mandatory directives. It is also troubling to see so many people flippantly flouting the mask-wearing rules by wearing their mask down on their chin, thereby leaving their nose and mouth completely exposed.
In addition, it has been extremely disturbing to see photos and videos of large groups of people neglecting to wear face coverings as they engage in their daily activities, seemingly oblivious to the grave danger posed by their imprudent conduct and in a clear contravention of the regulations.
Whether it is a lack of caring, the belief that they are immune, or a dearth of education about the threats posed by the pandemic, the optics of Orthodox Jews walking around without masks are not good. At a time when antisemitism is on the rise and Orthodox Jews are being subjected to vilification and violence by hate-filled bigots, we can ill afford to be painted in a negative light with a broad brush.
There is another aspect of this problem that warrants consideration. The preservation of human life and safeguarding our well-being is one of the paramount precepts in Judaism and endangering the life of another human being is a violation of Jewish law. Moreover, it is well known that we must take the necessary steps to protect a fellow Jew from a life-threatening situation. With the tremendous value placed on human life and protecting ourselves and others from bodily harm, it is therefore extraordinarily difficult to comprehend how some Orthodox Jews could justify compromising public health in such a cavalier and callous manner by their steadfast refusal to don a mask.
My fellow Orthodox Jews, I respectfully urge you to do better and take the pandemic more seriously. The ramifications of ignoring the virus as they relate to both our community and other communities are indeed dire, and we certainly do not want to bear responsibility for exacerbating a public health crisis of this magnitude. Wearing a mask may not be comfortable, but it is critical. We need to stop pretending as if it is business as usual and endeavor to be more mindful of doing our part to contain the virus.
On Yom Kippur, while wearing a mask and sitting six feet away from my fellow congregants, I recited the “Avinu Malkeinu” prayer. As I uttered the verse “Our Father, our King, withhold the plague from your heritage,” with as much mindfulness and intention as I could muster, the enormity of the present situation struck me. I could not help but wonder how people can justify merely saying those powerful words without feeling compelled to back them up with a simple action, such as wearing a mask, to demonstrate that we are serious about suppressing the COVID-19 plague.
Masks save lives. It is time for each of us to do our part and wear one. Our community – our friends, neighbors and loved ones – will all be better off for it.
The writer is the principal of Red Apple Strategies, LLC, a public relations and strategic communications firm, and has extensive experience in the Jewish nonprofit world. Follow him on Twitter @troodler