PEABODY – Governor Charlie Baker’s new coronavirus-related restrictions in Massachusetts are drawing praise from medical professionals who are advising North Shore synagogues.
The restrictions began last Friday amid a statewide spike in coronavirus cases and deaths and record nationwide daily case numbers. The restrictions call for mandatory mask wearing outside regardless of distance from others; a state curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; and limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to 10 and 25 people, respectively.
“My professional perspective is that I think [Gov. Baker] needs to have done what he’s done in an effort to stop the increase,” said Dr. Jeffrey Newton, who has retired from his clinical practice and serves as an advisor to Temple Ner Tamid of the North Shore in Peabody. “He can’t leave things static. He can’t not take steps to try and mitigate the increasing number of cases, the increasing number of deaths, that has occurred over the past weeks.”
One place where there has been an increase in COVID-19 patients is Mass General Hospital, where Dr. Josh Goldstein works. The director of the Center for Neurologic Emergencies and a professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, Goldstein is an advisor to Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore, also in Peabody. He said that MGH is prepared for the spike, which has not been as large as this past spring.
“The good news is that we have the equipment we need … to provide care to patients,” he said. “I am optimistic that we are in a good place and will be able to handle cases coming through the door.”
However, he is concerned that some members of the public have let their guard down.
“If we’re all committed to wearing a mask and doing our social distancing, a lot of activities can be done safely,” Goldstein said. “The only reason they can’t be is that it’s just been very hard for people in general to follow the rules.”
Dr. Edward Weiner, Ph.D, the immediate past president of Tiferet Shalom and the chairman of the Burlington Board of Health, noted the rise in case numbers. On Saturday, a day after Baker’s new restrictions took effect, the state reported 2,200 new cases and 23 deaths. For the second straight day, the case numbers represented a daily amount not seen since the spring.
“We have to be very careful,” Weiner said. “Social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting, being very careful. I’m not sure we’ve done all of that.”
On the North Shore, Newton has been pleased that people seem to be mostly complying with wearing masks. He hasn’t seen people without masks in supermarkets and stores, and although he notices the occasional maskless runner or walker, many others do wear a face covering when on the move.
When it comes to groups of people, Newton said, “the CDC has come out with statements that the recent increases in numbers are affected to some extent by small indoor gatherings.” He’s concerned about parties in the area, including celebrations by children and youths.
At night, things can get even more challenging.
“I think the governor tries to recognize that actual human beings do things differently at night versus during the day,” Goldstein said, noting that in the evening, “there will more likely be social events and the risk of bad behavior.”
However, the curfew contains flexibility for those who need to go out at night for work, school or emergency reasons, Newton pointed out.
Weiner, of Tiferet Shalom, noted that the governor’s new policies address places of worship that wish to meet in person, with recommendations for occupancy, social distancing and masks or face coverings.
“There are very clear recommendations that have to be followed, especially for people who will be leading the services,” Weiner said.
Ner Tamid and Tiferet Shalom are both remaining mostly virtual, although each has an in-person religious school for at least part of the time. The school at Ner Tamid meets on Mondays, while Tiferet Shalom uses a hybrid model.
“Everyone’s wearing masks, [maintaining an] appropriate distance,” Goldstein said. “Our teachers are teaching us that when we do things right, we can create safe spaces for gathering.”
Masks and social distancing are also required at the school at Ner Tamid, which has established ventilation requirements.
However, Newton said, Ner Tamid’s school could shift online. “We are aware of the change in [coronavirus] numbers. We’ll prepare to take steps, if necessary, to make [school] virtual. It depends on all the factors, what happens with schools in surrounding areas … Right now, we’re watching and monitoring what’s going on in the area.”
As he noted, “The whole issue is basically the safety of our congregants and staff at the temple, and our responsibility to the community.”
Goldstein sees Baker’s new policies as similarly rooted in safety.
“I personally applaud the efforts to reduce the spread of the virus,” he said. “It’s a valuable and worthy goal.”