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‘It’s not worth it:’ Rabbi warns Jewish community of dangers of COVID-19

Last Updated Sep 16, 2020 at 7:11 pm EDT

MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – A Montreal rabbi is imploring the city’s Jewish community take health recommendations seriously after a COVID-19 outbreak was traced back to a bar mitzvah.

Eleven high-school students and one staff member from Montreal’s Herzliah High School have tested positive for COVID-19 this week after some students attended a bar mitzvah the week before.

It is considered the largest school outbreak in Quebec, even though it did not originate from the school itself.

“If you do something, it’s not only putting yourself and your families at risk,” warned Rabbi Yisroel Bernath of the Rohr Chabad centre. “It’s putting the schools at risk, all our children at risk, our community at risk – and it’s not worth it.

“One thing that we can all learn as a community from this, it’s about protecting all of us together. We have to be so vigilant about it.”

On Sept. 11, public-health officials held a targeted one-day screening clinic at Herzliah High School following the bar mitzvah. Students from several classes and their families were tested for COVID-19 and sent home for remote learning.

While many students have since returned to school, five homerooms remain in quarantine until the end of their isolation period.

“It’s really important for the community to take this seriously,” added Bernath. “I myself had COVID. It was very difficult. I was completely out of commission for six weeks.”

In a statement to CityNews, Azrieli Talmud Torah Schools/Herzliah said the school “is working in close collaboration with Quebec public health and following their directives to manage the situation.

“We continue to work in partnership with our school community in stressing the importance of adhering to public health guidelines inside and outside of the school.”

While hundreds of Quebec schools have registered at least one case of COVID-19, the totals usually remain quite low.

“In all the other schools I’ve seen where there’s more than one case, there’s two or three,” said Olivier Drouin, the creator of a website that tracks COVID cases in Quebec schools. “But 12 is the biggest so far, for sure.”

As of Wednesday, Drouin’s website showed 334 schools in the province had at least one positive case. The Quebec government’s list is substantially lower – 237 schools.

Epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos says outbreaks in schools are practically inevitable.

“There almost certainly will be cases in various schools as we go forward,” he said. “The question is, what do we do after that? Are you able test everybody? Are you able to isolate them? Are you able to contact trace everybody and prevent one case from turning into two?

“We can’t allow ourselves to be complacent. The virus is still circulating. We’re seeing the number of cases going up on a daily basis.”