By Cece Cruz and Samuel Rowland
A group of 950 Churchgoers at St. James Roman Catholic Church, waved at each other instead of shaking hands last weekend just like the Diocese of Rockville Centre had requested in a letter on Monday. At Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation last Saturday, the 25 or so members present all touched elbows instead of the shaking hands. The Islamic Center of Long Island encouraged its community, especially the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the deadly outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), to pray in the comfort of their own homes and workplaces. These adjustments at religious institutions across Long Island are part of a larger attempt to prevent the widespread coronavirus outbreak, which has already affected 34 people on LI, according to the numbers released by the New York State department of health. The respiratory infection has claimed over 4,500 lives worldwide and at least 30 in total in the United States.
“I did ask for mutual sacrifice from those that normally receive [Communion bread] on the tongue during this coronavirus issue to receive in the hand,” Pastor Jim Manion at St. James Roman Catholic Church said. “Ministers’ fingers would be in their mouth and that could go to our host and that could go to another person.”
Along with the precautions taken with the Communion bread, the sharing of Communion wine, usually drunk from a common cup, was suspended by a declaration from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which governs all 133 parishes across Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Starting next Saturday, members of the Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation will be asked to refrain from kissing the Torah scrolls as they pass around the synagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Agishtein said.
“You want to balance vigilance and safety while trying to avoid hysteria and creating a negative atmosphere,” Rabbi Agishtein said.
Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation is one of a few synagogues in Long Island that follow the guidelines of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, who provide rulings on religious practice for a sect of Judaism known as the Modern Orthodox.
At the Islamic center of Long Island there has been a concern over the misinformation that is being spread about the virus on social media. The center has established a hotline to provide their community with the correct information and guidelines. The hotline has bilingual speakers answering calls since most members of the mosque are not fluent in english and mainly speak urdu or arabic. In addition they have also posted health guidelines provided by the CDC and Nassau County health department in a newsletter on their site.
“The only variable that we can control is the community aspect of it,“ Dr. Isma Chaudhry, Chairperson at the Board of Trustees for the Islamic center of Long Island said.
The Islamic center is asking members to bring personal rugs to place over the floor if they decide to go to the mosque and pray. They have also advised people not to hug each other or minimize personal contact in general. Meetings, which are normally about an hour have been cut to 20-30 minutes until further notice.
”Besides that social activities have been canceled due to caution– not in a state of panic, but because people are contained in their home and taking care of themselves from their homes,” Chaudhry said.
Religious practices are not the only spaces being impacted by this virus. An ongoing list of schools, including Hofstra University and Adelphi have been closed in Nassau County, where the number of cases rose from four to twenty-eight since Sunday, March 8. The original four people infected reportedly reside in Hempstead and Uniondale.
“We have been communicating with our residents in a multitude of ways,” Gordon Tepper, the Director of Communications at the Town of North Hempstead said. “[such as] robocalls, e-newsletters, and social Media.”
In addition, all town-run events for senior citizens have been cancelled in North Hempstead from now through March 20, as those over 80 are most at risk of death from COVID-19 infection according to the CDC.
NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola has also implemented a stricter visitor policy in light of the outbreak. They are also encouraging patients to consult doctors either by phone or their virtual urgent care system.
“Anyone presenting at the emergency room entrance that has a fever and cough, or fever and shortness of breath, is required to put on a mask before they go into the ER,” Anne Kazel-Wilcox, a spokeswoman for NYU Winthrop Hospital said.
There are currently six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Suffolk County while 72 others are being monitored. The Shoreham-Wading River School District cancelled all classes on Monday morning due to the possibility that a staff member’s spouse may be infected with the disease.
There are 216 confirmed cases statewide. The majority of them are in Westchester County. But many are already preparing for further cases to be found. The extent of the disruption to life on Long Island will change as the situation evolves.