Inside or Outside? Life in a town where quarantine rules seem to change on a daily basis

Like the rest of you, the word “coronavirus” is coming out of my ears. Having followed this outbreak since it began in China right around the beginning of January, I was concerned about its rapid spread. After seeing that people in countries other than China had been infected, I started to think about what might happen if the virus came to Israel. I discussed the matter with a friend, and we both agreed that it would make sense to stock up on some basic essential food items, just in case.

On Wednesday, February 26, I walked into a supermarket in Yerushalayim and filled up a shopping cart with bottled water. The cashier asked me if I was planning to drink water instead of wine on Purim. When I explained that I was stocking up in case of a coronavirus outbreak he chuckled. The woman behind me in line seemed to be a little surprised, but she too said nothing. The very next day I drove around town trying to find an N95 face mask. The first store I went to had a couple of FFP2 masks, which I learned are the European alternative to the N95, but they were the disposable kind, and they were almost out of them. I bought one for each member of my family and then went to another store to see if they had better models. When I arrived at the second store and asked for masks, the guy behind the counter actually laughed at me. Another customer suggested that I work on my emunah.

A few days passed. It was barely 6 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, when I started receiving messages that someone who had been visiting Telz Stone (where I live) over Shabbos had tested positive for coronavirus. The details soon emerged: where he had davened, and at exactly what times. Everyone who had come in contact with this person or the places he visited was requested to self-quarantine for a period of two weeks. The shul where the person davened was where I usually daven on Shabbos, but I’d gone away for Shabbos so I wasn’t affected.

Over the next few days, two problems developed in Telz Stone. The first was misinformation. Messages were flying all over local WhatsApp groups that unless you came into direct contact with “Number 29” (every person in Israel who had contracted the coronavirus was given a number, making it easier for the government to release information about that case), or within two meters of “Number 29,” it wasn’t necessary to be in quarantine. A lot of people in quarantine stopped isolating themselves, because according to what they’d read, they hadn’t come close enough to “Number 29” to warrant it. This message was rooted in truth, since those were the guidelines issued by Israel’s Ministry of Health up until the country had ten confirmed cases. After the tenth case, the guidelines were made stricter. Of course, being that we were already dealing with case “Number 29,” they shouldn’t have been applicable.

Then later that night I received an anonymous private message from someone on Twitter who claimed to work for the Israeli Health Ministry warning me that there would soon be lockdowns in Israel, and I should go stock up on food. I wasn’t sure if it was legit, but I decided to heed the advice. Dropping everything I was doing, I ran to a supermarket and filled up four shopping carts with food and other household necessities. When I got to the toilet paper aisle, it was empty. Perhaps other people had begun stocking up as well. The cashier was surprised to see me go by four separate times, each time with another shopping cart, but at this point I didn’t care what anyone else thought; I’d rather be safe than sorry. When I got home, I learned about the second problem in Telz Stone. It seemed that there were confirmed reports of people violating their quarantine, at which point I made the decision to enter quarantine myself. This was not because I’d come in contact with anyone suspected of carrying the virus, but because I didn’t want to. I pulled my daughter out of preschool and stopped leaving my home.

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