Pesach programs: offer refunds to guests aged 55+ and guests with underlying conditions

Pesach programs: offer refunds to guests aged 55+ and guests with underlying conditions

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Netanel Zellis-Paley started this petition to Directors of Pesach Programs in North America

As you probably know, this week (March 1) 5 cases of CoVID-19 (coronavirus) were confirmed in the Orthodox Jewish community of New Rochelle, NY. Given the close-knit nature of our community and the frequency of our communal gatherings, many more are likely to emerge in the coming weeks. The first person to have the virus in New Rochelle was at the Young Israel of New Rochelle on Shabbos, February 22nd, as well as a funeral and bat mitzvah on Sunday, February 23rd, and may have unknowingly exposed many people to the virus while there, including relatives of the deceased who traveled from New Jersey for the funeral. Already, the first patient's wife, neighbor, son, who attends Yeshiva University, and daughter, who attends SAR Academy, have confirmed cases of coronavirus, as well as 5 out of 6 members of a family whose father interacted several times with the first patient. While they are self-quarantining at home, they may have unknowingly spread the virus in their schools. Realistically speaking, we could be looking at tens, even hundreds more cases in our community by next week.

The time to act is now. Pesach is a little more than a month away, and that means in a little more than a month hundreds of Jews will be congregating in hotels, dining halls, pools, and other confined spaces, while sharing food, serving utensils, even Haggadot and Machzorim--and all with no way of enforcing proper hand-washing and other safety measures. Not to mention the fact that thousands of people will be traveling to these programs by plane, against the explicit guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In other words, Pesach programs are potential hotspots for coronavirus transmission and infection, and if the virus has not spread throughout our community by then, the Pesach programs will make sure of it. Yet so far only a couple of programs in North America have canceled their programs or offered refunds to guests. This is despite the fact that many guests presumably are older and/or have underlying medical conditions, both of which put them at much higher risk, God forbid, for severe illness and death. Many of these guests save all year round, or perhaps for several years, for these programs, and thus cannot afford both to absorb the financial cost of a cancellation AND the cost of making Pesach at home. Because of this consideration, many of them will decide to attend the program anyway, putting themselves and potentially others at serious risk.

We therefore call on the directors of Pesach programs to offer full or, at the very least, partial refunds to guests over the age of 55 and guests with underlying medical conditions. We understand that many of you rely on these programs for your livelihood, but as people going into the travel business, you take the risk by running these programs, which are subject to all sorts of complications, be them weather-, facility-, or labor-related. Insurance exists for a reason. It is time for you to set aside your own financial concerns for a moment and think about the big picture. People's lives.

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