Beth Shalom COVID-19 Update

As of Friday, June 19, 2020

Now that the Commonwealth has declared Allegheny County to be in the “Green” phase, it’s time for another update on what we’re doing at Congregation Beth Shalom. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the virus has not really changed over the past few months. There is no vaccine and no cure. What is different is that we’ve figured out better how to adapt to life with the virus, and how to live with it in our community.

First and foremost, simply being in the green phase doesn’t mean that we are opening our doors and are once again fully open. We’ll get there someday, but right now we’re going to continue to take a cautious approach, including ensuring that the infection counts in the area continue to drop before starting up certain activities, starting up activities in a phased manner, and putting procedural precautions in place.

Ensuring that the infection counts in the area continue to drop will mean, at the very least, watching the results of the infection numbers in the county a couple of weeks after the recent demonstrations and marches. Large gatherings in recent weeks have raised the risk for us all, and we need to understand the effects of those gatherings.

Starting up in a phased manner means that not all activities will begin at once.

  • At the top of our list was getting our Early Learning Center (ELC) open once again. The ELC is critical for child care for so many of our families that have essential personnel working to alleviate the effects of the virus, and/or have people who need to get back to work outside the home. The ELC opened up its Camp Gan Shalom, on schedule, on June 16.  There are many new procedures in place at the ELC, including a restriction on parents coming in to the building (dropoff and pickup will be curbside), temperature taking of all children (and staff), mask wearing for staff, separation of activities by classroom, new cleaning protocols, and much more. ELC families have received a detailed email on the changes, and last week the ELC staff was trained on the new procedures.
  • From there, plans become less definite. And we have created a new Building Reopening Taskforce to provide recommendations, and augment the existing Coronavirus Taskforce that has been guiding us from a medical perspective.
  • The next item of discussion is allowing people back in the building for religious services. We are actively discussing this possibility. At the earliest, it’s still a another week away (pending tracking of local cases, as indicated above). We will be making a decision on Monday, June 22, as to whether or not to enable a limited number of people to come in to the building for services on June 27. When this does become effective, new procedures will be in place for anybody physically attending, and remote Zoom options will continue to be offered, at least for quite a while.
  • Larger gatherings, such as for simchas, are trickier, and it might be a while before the building opens for them. They are, by their nature, social events, and no matter what procedures we put in place, it’s difficult to socialize and enforce the restrictions. We need to be responsible in keeping everyone safe.
  • Lastly are all the programming and meetings. Mostly, these are occurring very successfully over Zoom and will likely continue that way for quite some time. Some activities, such as synchronized singing, cannot be done over the network, and we’ll likely just have to do without them for a while.
  • High Holiday services are also being actively discussed, and we’ll be developing plans for those over the next couple of months.

Procedural precautions are being drafted for building use. They already include a requirement for anyone in the building to be wearing a mask (unless working in his/her own office or in a secluded manner), and will soon include requirements for temperature taking upon building entry and logging of who is coming in and leaving the building. Other requirements are under discussion, and these will all need to be solidified, documented, and communicated before people are permitted back in the building.

In the meantime, we’ve taken advantage of this time of low occupancy to make some upgrades within the building. The maintenance staff is at full strength and has been working hard to keep the building clean and sanitized and to get to many backlogged projects.

Thank you for your continued understanding and support. We hope to see you all soon.

Rabbi Seth Adelson, Senior Rabbi
Debby Firestone, President
Ken Turkewitz, Interim Executive Director