September 14, 2022
Since March 2020, Beth Emet’s COVID-19 decision-making has been led by the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh—saving a life. Our COVID-19 Task Force has followed guidance from federal, state, and city governments while considering the needs and wishes of our community.
Over the past 2+ years, we improved ventilation in our building, adjusted seating capacities, required vaccinations and masking, and took other steps to provide a welcoming environment as we reopened our building. We also improved our technology to livestream services and classes, so that those who did not wish (or were not able) to come in person could continue to participate in our community.
Until the past few weeks, the level of virus reported in the Evanston and suburban Cook County area has been elevated. We therefore kept masking requirements in the building in order to protect members of our community who wish to attend events.
With the availability of vaccines (including the new bivalent booster), therapeutics, and the lowered rate of community spread, many members now wish to attend services, educational programming and other events without masking. The risk of hospitalization or death from a COVID infection is now very low, that masking is no longer required by government regulation, and that many people have chosen not to mask in grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Many members believe that at this point in the pandemic, mask wearing should be a matter of individual choice. Some suggest that those who are concerned about infection can adequately protect themselves by wearing masks.
Some members may not feel safe coming to our building unless masking is in place because there are significant risks of long-term effects of COVID infections, and that repeated infections are likely to increase the risk. It has been noted that the virus is more likely to be spread in a worship service, where the entire congregation is likely to be speaking and singing, and that the risk is greater as the size of an indoor group increases. The infection rate can be reduced if everyone masks, and suggest that inclusion means the community should mask to protect those who are elderly, are otherwise at risk, and/or immunocompromised.
We recognize that many of our members have had differing views about COVID policy throughout the pandemic. We will monitor changes in the pandemic, and update our policies as circumstances warrant.