Note: Susan Cosden wrote this record of her experiences in mid-March, 2020. As of press time in late March, the family is safe and has not developed symptoms of the virus.
If we have learned anything so far about the coronavirus, it is that things are changing very quickly. I do not know if what I am writing will still be relevant when you read it, and yet, I have been asked to share my story. I hope it is helpful to some of you.
Two Shabbatot ago, the CDC changed the status of Italy from level 2 for the coronavirus to level 3. For many of you, that might have been just a passing notice mentioned in an article, but for me it changed everything.
If you don’t know my family, my son is a degree-seeking student at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy, so this information needed immediate attention. That Sunday we learned his university was giving the option for students who wanted to return home to learn online after midterms and spring break. After checking in with the CDC and the North Shore Health Department, we booked his flight home for the following weekend. I am so grateful we made that decision before flights from Italy were canceled and the country went on lockdown.
Through daily phone calls with the North Shore Health Department, I began to learn more about what would happen to my son and my family when he came home. I learned that as my son was going to be on a self-quarantine for 14 days and I needed to find housing for my mother, who is a senior. First, I made plans for her to fly to a family member out of state. Then it was announced that people over 60 shouldn’t fly.
Fortunately, we were blessed by incredible human beings who offered to house her locally. (This was not the first time I was impressed with how kind people in Milwaukee are and yet, I am overwhelmed by the many offers.) I learned that my son would need to stay in his room with the door closed except to go to the restroom and that I would need to take his temperature twice a day and report it to NSDoH once a day. I learned what to shop for like disposable plates, cups, forks, etc. as he couldn’t eat on the dishes we use in case he has the virus.
As soon as my son and I decided he was coming home, I also began asking the CDC and the health department about whether I could work at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, or whether it would be better to work from home. Throughout the entire week before my son came home, they confirmed I could be at the synagogue as long as my son did not get a fever. Knowing their recommendations, and also being aware of both the fear people have about the coronavirus and how quickly information was changing, I offered and the leadership of CEEBJ, in consultation with me, decided that it would be best if I worked from home while my son was quarantined.
Today, March 13, is day six of my son’s quarantine. So far, pooh, pooh, pooh, he has no fever and no other symptoms. So far, I have, pooh, pooh, pooh, no fever and no other symptoms. I feel blessed that both of these things are true. I am grateful that the nurse at North Shore Health Department has been so very kind, caring, and helpful since our very first conversation. I am grateful I have the ability to work from home and that I work with incredible colleagues, lay leaders, teachers and volunteers who are stepping up so I can work from home and who are keeping me in the loop.
May our federal and local representatives make sure this is available and financially feasible for everyone. I am grateful for all the modern technology that is allowing me to both work from home and stay connected with colleagues, friends, and family. I have much deeper empathy for those who, due to health issues, are at home 24/7. As an extrovert, one week has already been a long time not being able to be with others in person. I am so grateful to be able to buy food and supplies online and have them delivered to my doorstep so we can continue to take care of ourselves while not risking the health of anyone else. I am grateful for the support of friends, colleagues, congregants, and family.
All week I have been thinking about Pirkei Avot 2:4 where Hillel is quoted, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, when we are asked to practice social distancing, to self-quarantine if we aren’t feeling well or have traveled out of the country, to learn remotely, to work from home, and possibly even to pray from home, all of these things on the surface separate us from our communities.
On first glance we are putting the value of pikuach nefesh, saving a soul, above the value of kehillah, community. Yet, as we begin to put these practices in place, I have learned that we are valuing both. In the end, by following these measures we are separating not to distance ourselves from the community but rather to strengthen the health of our entire community. At the same time, we must create new ways to connect and strengthen our sense of community while we are each in our own homes. I know Milwaukee can do this as you are some of the most caring and kind people I have ever met. May the day soon come when once more I may greet you in person. Kein Yehei Ratzon.