A COVID-19 outbreak has prompted Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh to switch to online learning, and several Pittsburgh-area Shuls with ties to the school either canceled or scaled back their in-person celebrations of the holiday of Purim as an additional precaution.
Dr. Marc Oster, president of Yeshiva Schools, estimated that about 45 to 50 students, staff members and their family members have tested positive. “Thankfully, all of them have had mild illness,” he said, with many people asymptomatic.
The Yeshiva Schools, which has separate boys and girls schools in Squirrel Hill, has been open for in-person learning for most of the academic year. Dr. Oster said the schools have requirements for masking, physical distancing and daily questionnaires of all students and staff to determine any exposures to COVID, travel and participation in large gatherings. He said these protocols have been effective for much of the school year, but the current outbreak apparently began in the residential area for out-of-town students in the boys high school.
The high school went to remote learning last week, and when it was clear more cases were occurring in the community, all of the grades went to remote this week, he said.
Dr. Oster said Allegheny County health officials and Executive Rich Fitzgerald have reached out to offer help with such things as testing.
Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said: “When a cluster is identified, the county Health Department has a team of individuals whose job it is to call and review mitigation strategies. In addition, the department offers testing in an effort to identify additional cases which then assures proper isolation and quarantine.”
The Yeshiva Schools are affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch of Western Pennsylvania. Orthodox Shuls affiliated with the organization in the Pittsburgh area have scaled back or canceled some activities related to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which went from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday.
“This is a Purim like none other,” said Dr. Oster, who is himself a medical doctor and who advised school parents at an online meeting to avoid the usual large family and congregational gatherings.
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld of the Lubavitch Center, a Shul that shares space with the boys school, said the congregation found ways to maintain distancing while conducting essential Purim rites. He said participants listened from their cars in a parking lot to an outdoor reading of the megillah, or scroll containing the ancient biblical story of the deliverance of Jewish exiles from a murderous plot in the Persian Empire.
“It was done right according to Jewish law and done right according to the legal and health concerns,” he said, to ensure “everybody and the people around them are safe.”
Also on Friday, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced grades 6 through 8 at St. Therese School in Munhall will move to remote learning next week following a positive test of someone at the school.