Synagogue in a Time of COVID (Why We Need Good Prevalence Measures)

So Monday and Tuesday were Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s the first time my family and I attended in person since the pandemic. We got there very early, under the (correct) assumption that it wouldn’t be crowded then*, but by 11am or so, I would estimate we were in a very large room with many hundreds of unmasked people, so we left at around noon (we were wearing masks). With that many people, combined with a lack of COVID prevalence estimates, the odds of someone who isn’t wearing a mask and is infectious seem high (i.e, if we assume 1/200 people are infected and able to transmit, and 700 unmasked people, it’s virtually guaranteed there are one or more infectious people there).

My point isn’t really to argue about risks and protections, or the particulars of how one should decide when or if to attend services. At this point, most people won’t change their behavior anyway. But if we had good estimates of COVID prevalence–something like the percentage of asymptomatic patients who test positive upon hospital intake–we wouldn’t have to assume the worst. If we ‘knew’ that the asymptomatic infected rate is 0.1%, that leads to a very different calculation, even with many hundreds of unmasked people. But in the absence of those data, we have to make conservative assumptions, and, so, hundreds of unmasked people in an auditorium is a concern.

Despite the Biden’s administration’s claims to the contrary, we are not being ‘given the tools’ to make the best decisions, and this is becoming tiresome.

*For people who aren’t Jewish, the full ‘morning’ services (shacharit through musaf) at our synagogue start at around 8:15am and run to about 1:30pm. This is not a brief exposure.

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1 Response to Synagogue in a Time of COVID (Why We Need Good Prevalence Measures)

  1. Pingback: Two Questions That Need to Be Asked About COVID and Risk | Mike the Mad Biologist

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