Community weathering latest COVID surge

franckreporter / E+

The season’s first snow storm on Monday caused a change of plans at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville.

“Before the snow we were going to have a COVID testing day on Monday and a virtual day on Tuesday. Then back to school on Wednesday,” said Sarah Sicherman, the school’s director of marketing and communications. “Now, hopefully we’ll be back at school on Friday.”

Snow melts. But the pandemic and the omicron variant seem to go on and on.

“Omicron has created some new challenges we’re dealing with,” Sicherman said. “In the last two weeks we’ve had double the number of cases that we’ve had in the last two years. That’s how it’s been across the community and across the nation.”

Nationally, there were a more than 1 million reported new cases of COVID on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of deaths were far less than a year ago,On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency mobilizing the National Guard to assist health authorities to address the surge in the state, according to The Washington Post.

“He said models are showing that hospitals could see more than 5,000 people hospitalized, which would amount to a 250 percent increase in hospitalizations,” The Post reported.

Also on Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council extended the indoor mask mandate for the rest of January.

On Dec. 29, the United States reached 300,886 average new daily cases over the previous week, a new high, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. At the nation’s airports, including those in the Washington area, the COVID surge conspired with wintry weather to cancel thousands of flights, The Post reported.

Hopes of a permanent return to normal and to in-person programming have once again been put on pause, as the recent surge has resulted in Jewish organizations updating their COVID-19 policies. Some are bringing back restrictions, which run the gamut from banning food and drink in specific venues to canceling in-person events.

The Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia updated its policies to temporarily suspend food and beverage consumption in the lobby of its building and at its programs, said Executive Director Jeff Dannick.

“The policy was implemented due to a number of factors including the spike in positivity rates and to facilitate effective mask policy compliance to keep safe our members, guests, and children in our Early Childhood Learning Center who are not yet eligible for the vaccines,” Dannick said in an email. “We recognize that not everyone will agree with our decision, but in the interest of our community’s health, we have to do what we can to minimize the spread of the virus.”

The Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center’s Day of Service on Dec. 24 went on as scheduled. But a similar program in Baltimore was canceled by the Jewish Volunteer Connection. Even so, 25 volunteers came together and assembled more than 2,000 care packages.

“We recognized we have a sacred obligation to get those kind of winter care packages out,” said Ashley Pressman, executive director of the Jewish Volunteer Connection.

At Berman Hebrew Academy, Sicherman said the biggest challenge to date has been with staff.

“Many staff members are infected, or have been in contact with an infected person or are at home with a sick child,” she said.

The school has been testing weekly since the fall “to identify any asymptomatic cases. It has worked very well. We’ve seen little proof of spread in our classrooms. But with omicron, many more cases are popping up.”

The school isn’t ready to reduce the isolation period from 10 days to five, as suggested by the CDC, she said.

“We’re rolling with the punches,” she said. “We thought we would be done with this by now.”

WJW Editor David Holzel contributed to this article.

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