Undergraduate Student and Faculty Member Test Positive for COVID-19, Wilf And Beren Campuses Closed Until March 11

By: Molly Meisels and Fruma Landa  |  March 4, 2020

By Molly Meisels and Fruma Landa

March 6 Update: Rabbi Fink is asymptomatic. The Department of Health has advised YU that “individuals who have been in contact with an asymptomatic person who has tested positive for COVID-19 virus do not need to be placed in quarantine.” The administration is informing students in Rabbi Fink’s classes of this medical position.

March 6 Update: On March 6, YU administrators announced that Rabbi Reuven Fink, the Rabbi of the Young Israel of New Rochelle, has tested positive for COVID-19. Rabbi Fink teaches two undergraduate classes on the Wilf Campus. Administrators reached out to his students and advised them to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure. 

March 4 Update: President Ari Berman, Dean Chaim Nissel, and Don Weiss, Director of Surveillance, Bureau of Communicable Diseases at the New York City Department of Health, addressed the student body and parents at 5:00 p.m on March 4 over a phone conference. They notified those on the call that the Beren and Wilf campuses will be closed from Thursday, March 5, until March 11 (after Purim). Evening classes on the Beren Campus will take place tonight, March 4, as usual. Additionally, all events and social gatherings will be cancelled; the Sarachek tournament will postponed until further notice. This includes megilla readings on the Beren Campus. Students are encouraged not to congregate in large groups, including but not limited to spaces like the beit midrash. The cafeterias and dorm buildings will remain open. An email will be send out to the student body with a recap of the call. The call has been recorded and will be accessible to students.

On March 4 at 8:17 a.m., the Yeshiva University Alert System informed the YU community that an undergraduate male student has tested positive for COVID-19. This news comes one day after YU’s administration informed the student body that the same student was in quarantine with his family after his father, a Westchester attorney, contracted the virus. According to the Governor Andrew Cuomo, the attorney’s wife, son, daughter, and neighbor have tested positive. 

“We are taking every precaution by canceling all classes on the Wilf Campus in Washington Heights for Wednesday March 4, 2020. This includes all in-person graduate courses on that campus as well as at the boys’ high school,” the administration wrote. They say they are working with health and government officials to ensure the safety of the student body, faculty, and staff. In their message, administrators iterated that “[s]tudents who have been quarantined or [are] in self-quarantine will be monitored by our health center along with guidance from city agencies.” The Beren Campus and other graduate campuses will remain open on March 4. At 1:12 p.m. Governor Cuomo tweeted that the Wilf Campus will be closed until Friday, March 6 “out of an abundance of caution.” 

Many students are not satisfied that closing the Wilf Campus will protect Beren Campus students. Sarah Brill, SCW ‘21, commented to the YU Observer,My concern is that students who are commuting from the Wilf [C]ampus may have been in contact with this person or may test positive but not hold symptoms. By not shutting down Beren, the school is not allowing adequate time to get a good cleaning facility in here to clean.” Similarly, Rachel Adama, SCW ‘21, remarked, “The virus spreads over countries and won’t over campuses? Students and staff travel between campuses all the time.” 

In addition to the Wilf student who has tested positive for the virus, there are currently other undergraduate students who may have been exposed, as they were at the same synagogue in New Rochelle as the Westchester attorney. WABC reported that health officials have ordered congregants to self-quarantine if they attended services on February 22 or a funeral and bat mitzvah on February 23. 

It has been reported to the YU Observer that there were male students on the Wilf Campus who were quarantined in their dorm room because of this notice. “Due to the multiple people [who] are in quarantine on my floor, my RA said that [bathroom] stall on the left and the shower on the left are quarantine areas,” commented an anonymous student. 

An RA reported that under the direction of the New York City Department Of Health,YU is not currently advising anyone to quarantine themselves.

Currently, as a precautionary measure, Wilf Campus students who have been in contact with the infected student are being tested for COVID-19 at Bellevue Hospital. At 10:37 a.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: “City disease detectives are on campus to identify close contacts of the student [who has tested positive] and connect those individuals to testing immediately[…]”

An anonymous student told the YU Observer that he is frustrated by the lack of communication to those who were in New Rochelle. “There has not been one order given out to any of those students and only rumors have been floating from RAs of what they plan on doing. It is not right to leave students who have to stress about this on top of the rigorous class schedule provided at YU,” he said. 

CJ Glicksman, YC ‘20, the Resident Advisor of the infected student, shared his thoughts with the YU Observer: “[T]he most important thing is for students not to panic. YU is working very closely with the New York City Department of Health, who have presumably been preparing for a college campus outbreak for weeks, as they are responsible for the health of hundreds of thousands of New York City college students. YU and the DOH are obviously doing whatever is possible to contain the situation, and […] venting frustrations at YU can only be detrimental.”

Many students on the Wilf Campus are relieved that YU is taking measures to protect its student population. “I was happy to see that YU took precautionary measures to protect the safety of the students. We look for the administration to make executive decisions, it is extremely relieving they took a stance during these troubling times,” said Yair Shavrick, YC ‘21. Matthew Silkin, YC ‘20, a student who voiced concerns to the YU Observer about COVID-19 on March 3, shared, “I wish a speedy recovery for the affected student and his father. I’m glad that the university is taking these steps to ensure our health and safety […] I do understand where they are coming from though with the last hour updates — this is a completely new disease for a lot of medical professionals, not to mention everyone who has to call the shots here who isn’t in the medical industry.”

Due to fears surrounding COVID-19 spread, many events on campus have been cancelled. Elka Wiesenberg, SCWSC VP of Clubs, cancelled a town hall meeting for club heads via email. “Due to the coronavirus case, tonight’s event has been cancelled. We will reschedule when it is safe and healthy to do so,” she wrote. Additionally, the Beren Campus weekly Shabbat minyan has been cancelled for the week of March 6th-7th, Parshat Zachor.