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OpinionEditorial

NY wisely imposes new COVID-19 restrictions

Jewish Orthodox community members speak with NYPD officers

Jewish Orthodox community members speak with NYPD officers on Wednesday in Brooklyn. Many in the community oppose reinstating COVID-19-related restrictions. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to issue restrictions on certain neighborhoods across the state, particularly in New York City, but including parts of the Five Towns — is critically important, even though it will mean necessary changes to religious celebrations, along with school and business closures.

We’re still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the health of the region’s residents must remain paramount. There is a second wave emerging in Europe, and infections in the upper Midwest are surging. On Wednesday, Boston delayed the next phase of its public school reopenings.

The pushback from some Orthodox Jewish groups and others lacks justification and an understanding of just how precarious this situation is. And it is regrettable that many individuals, and community and religious leaders, won’t wear masks or accept the science supporting their use. Also regrettable: that some elected officials are fighting the restrictions in such heated, nonsensical ways.

Instead, it is important for all involved parties to become partners with state and local officials to develop a way forward, to avoid any further shutdown, and any continued increase in the rate of positive cases.

In this month of Jewish holidays, the most celebratory one is saved for last. The holiday of Simchat Torah, which begins Saturday night, often features crowded circles of dancing revelers, passing a Torah scroll from person to person, singing and shouting as they go. That can’t happen this year, although there are other, appropriate ways to celebrate. Instead, it seems like the perfect time for these Orthodox Jewish communities to rely on the concept known as "pikuach nefesh" — the notion that saving a life supersedes nearly any other religious guideline. It’s an idea that all of us should adopt as we navigate the pandemic.

Cuomo’s move is not anti-Semitic, or arbitrary. The data must drive the response to COVID-19 spikes. Nassau County’s latest statistics indicate that Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Inwood and Great Neck have the highest rates of infections in the county per-100,000 population.

State officials also should closely monitor the lines they’ve drawn around the hot spots, particularly because some communities are split between different levels of restrictions, generating only confusion and hardship. And certainly, many residents in these communities are following safety guidelines. Clear and frequent communication with everyone is necessary for proper enforcement.

Getting this virus outbreak under control — doing what is best for all New Yorkers — must be the top priority. City, county and state officials can do that by combating the disinformation that continues to percolate.

The way to get the restrictions lifted is for the infection rate to decline. That starts with wearing a mask, socially distancing, and limiting large gatherings.

If that is done now, there will be plenty of time in the months and years to come for dancing, singing, and celebrating.

— The editorial board

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