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U.S. Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams spoke with the rabbis and lay leaders of the Orthodox Union about safe worship during the High Holidays.

In a Zoom meeting on Sept. 1, U.S. Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams spoke with the rabbis and lay leaders of the Orthodox Union about safe worship during the High Holidays.

Adams said that faith leaders play an important role in dealing with epidemics. “Health professionals need the support of faith leaders to get their messages to be taken seriously by the general community,” he said. “And health professionals need to listen to the concerns of the community as expressed by faith leaders.”

Adams told those on the call that the coronavirus pandemic seems to be abating in the United States, with the rate of new cases and of deaths declining nationwide. There are still hot spots, he cautioned, and the potential for outbreaks is real.

According to Adams, by coughing, talking, singing and shouting we send little droplets into the air that could transmit the virus. The closer an individual is or the longer he or she is exposed, exacerbates the risk. “Barriers, ventilation, distancing, all help to lessen the risk,” Adams said.

Having services outdoors with social distancing and congregants wearing masks, as well as having shorter services can help mitigate the risk, he said.

He added that everyone should consider their age and personal health circumstance, as well as how at-risk the local neighborhood is, such as recent outbreaks. He said congregations should not be lulled into a “one-size-fits all” mentality. “Know the congregation,” he said. “Does it skew older? Find ways to do precious outreach to people who might suffer from social isolation.”

Adams also recommended having signs in the congregation advertising contact tracing, marking pathways for foot traffic and having people bring their own prayer books. “The fewer people who handle each item the better,” he said.

Other recommendations included keeping distance between the audience and the person blowing the shofar and a plexiglass shield for the Kohanim. Chanting or singing should be kept to a minimum and masks should be worn while singing.

“It is a sacrifice, not what we are used to, but it is only temporary,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. “We can get through this. Jewish people, more than perhaps any other people, know that sometimes you have to forgo pleasure or endure hardship for a time in order to achieve larger goals.”

Adams ended the presentation by reminding listeners to continue following safety precautions and to “rely on science, not on misinformation” as well as get their flu vaccines.  “We certainly do not want to be dealing with outbreaks of the flu during the coronavirus pandemic,” Adams said. “This too shall pass.”

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