[Updated] Montreal federation takes precautions against the coronavirus

The Montreal Jewish community’s normally busy spring season will be directly affected by measures announced by Quebec Premier François Legault on March 12.

All indoor public events of more than 250 people are to be cancelled until further notice, he said, although schools are not being closed. The government is also asking that all “non-essential” public events be voluntarily cancelled.

As of March 12, there were 13 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Quebec.

Montreal’s Federation CJA announced that it is implementing a “three-week rule” regarding the scheduling of community programming.

This means that the organization is reviewing whether a program will go ahead three weeks prior to the scheduled date.

In addition, chief executive officer Yair Szlak said the federation is endeavouring to make every committee meeting accessible through phone, Skype or Zoom.

Other precautions being taken against the spread of the coronavirus include using a stronger antiviral cleaning agent in the federation building, installing hand sanitizers at the elevator of each floor and advising employees, volunteers and anyone else who would otherwise come into the building who does not feel well to stay home.

Those who do enter are advised to use proper hand hygiene and avoid unnecessary physical contact, such as hugging and kissing.

At Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, the largest synagogue in Montreal, Rabbi Adam Scheier told members on March 6 that there were no plans to cancel any services or scheduled programs.

He advised everyone to practise basic hygiene, such as hand washing and refraining from handshaking, and those who have signs of illness of any kind to not come to the synagogue.

“This is true even if you are a mourner saying Kaddish, or if Jewish law mandates your presence for any reason,” Rabbi Scheier said.

At the public longterm care facilities associated with the Jewish community that are administered by the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, all visitors, including volunteers, are being checked before they are allowed to enter.

Barbra Gold, director of seniors’ support services at the CIUSSS, told The CJN that at the entrance of these institutions visitors will find a large sign warning them that they may not come in if they are not feeling well, have recently travelled to a list of places, or been in contact with anyone possibly exposed to COVID-19 or an acute respiratory illness.

A security guard or receptionist will be asking them these questions, she said, and, if the answer is yes to any of those criteria, the person will be barred.

The facilities associated with the Jewish community are Maimonides Geriatric Centre, Jewish Eldercare Centre and Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as the intermediate-care Lev Tov.

Gold said details about these procedures would be posted on the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal website by the end of March 12.

Gold said the same monitoring procedure applies to staff at every shift.

While no other restrictions have been placed at this time on loved ones visiting residents of these facilities, the CIUSSS is not admitting members of the general public, for example, to large gatherings and such event are being limited even for residents.

Elsewhere, Cantor Daniel Benlolo of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue said the Jewish heritage tour of Morocco that he and his wife Muriel were to lead this spring has been postponed to the fall.

And Montreal area MP Anthony Housefather is self-isolating at home as a precaution because he may have been exposed to COVID-19 while attending the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) conference earlier this month.

As of March 9, four of the approximately 18,000 people who went to that event in Washington, D.C., held from March 1-3, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Housefather, the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, said he was withdrawing from the public on March 9.

He said he has shown no symptoms of disease and feels fine.

Since returning from Washington, Housefather has attended a number of public events, including holding a town hall meeting on medical assistance in dying on March 5 in his riding.

Housefather said he decided to quarantine himself on the advice of public health officials in Toronto, and will remain at home until they tell him he can resume his normal life.

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the nova coronavirus, which causes the diseases COVID-19, a pandemic.

Generally the virus only causes mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath. But for some people, especially the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions, it can cause more severe symptoms such as pneumonia. In some cases it can result in death, but according to the WHO, most people recover within two weeks, although people with a more severe illness might take up to six weeks to recover.