By Molly Meisels
Fruma Landa contributed to this story.
On March 3, the Yeshiva University Alert System informed undergraduate students via email and text message that the father of a Wilf Campus student, a Westchester attorney, contracted the COVID-19 virus. He is the second confirmed case of coronavirus in New York, with children in YU and SAR. The family is now in quarantine. This news comes hours after three Jewish day schools in the Greater New York area, SAR Academy, Westchester Day School, and Westchester Torah Academy, cancelled classes due to COVID-19 concerns.
The principals of SAR messaged parents about March 3’s school cancellation. “We are writing to inform you that there is a suspected case of coronavirus in our community,” they wrote. “We are in touch with the New York City Department of Health and following their guidelines. School will be closed today […] for precautionary measures.”
Additionally, WABC reported that health officials have ordered those who attended Temple Young Israel in New Rochelle on February 22 and February 23 (for a funeral and bat mitzvah) to “self-quarantine until at the very earliest March 8.” The synagogue has also been ordered to stop all services for the time being. There is no information at this time about how this affects the YU community.
In YU’s alert to the student body, they echoed SAR’s sentiments, claiming that they are working with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response to “take every necessary precaution to ensure the safety of [the YU] community.” The Wilf student in quarantine has not been on campus since Thursday, February 27. Students have been posting jokes related to the virus on “The Official YU Meme Group” Facebook page. On one thread, a member of the YU community voiced concerns over whether the student has been in quarantine since his father tested positive for the virus.
YU’s Cardozo School of Law also sent its student body updates about COVID-19. They’ve been informed that a Cardozo student who works for the Westchester attorney is in self-quarantine. According to the administrative alert “[t]he Cardozo student is reporting no symptoms.”
As a short term measure of precaution, YU is disinfecting its undergraduate campuses and the Cardozo campus. At the time of publication, the administration plans to keep the university open and classes running. Professor Anna-Lisa Cohen of YU’s psychology department has cancelled her Wednesday cognitive psychology class due to COVID-19. “It may be an abundance of caution but I want to hold off until we know a bit more about the COVID-19 situation,” she wrote to her students.
Not every student is confident in YU’s ability to prevent an outbreak. Matthew Silkin, YC ‘20, shared his fears with the YU Observer: “I feel like YU’s response of simply wiping down campus with disinfectant and hoping for the best, is a little concerning, especially in the wake of the way other institutions and companies are reacting to the infections of their own employees, students, and other faculties. Especially as an out-of-towner, with no reliable cheap way of getting home in case there is an outbreak on campus – what am I going to do, stay at someone else’s house and infect them?” Other students feel similarly about YU’s ability to handle the virus. “I lack faith that YU will be able to adequately handle the situation,” commented an anonymous Yeshiva College student.
Some students have begun taking precautions of their own. Mitch Goulson, SSSB ‘23, has decided to wear a mask around campus. He told the YU Observer, “I couldn’t take any chances. As I pride myself on taking initiative, I put on a mask. It didn’t mean anything that no one else had one on at that point.” It is important to note that the surgeon general has urged the public to stop buying face masks. Other students have begun advocating for campus closures by started a petition on change.org titled “Close all Yeshiva University campuses due to the outbreak of COVID-19.” At the time of publication, the petition has 762 signatures. The number has been rapidly rising since the petition was published.
For some students, the severity of the news has not set in. “I’m not as scared as I should be, because I haven’t had time to process what’s going on,” shared Hadassah Penn, SCW ‘20. “But I know that as soon as I face the reality of this news, it will be difficult to reign in my distress. I appreciate YU keeping us informed, because proper education is the way for us to get through this.”
This story is developing. Check back in for more updates.
Photo: Mitch Goulson, SSSB ’23, and Jonathan Yefet, SSSB ’22, wearing masks at YU.
Photo Source: Mitch Goulson