By Rabbi Judge Sander Goldberg (in consultation with experts)
First, my conclusion: The country has taken the wrong approach in confronting the Coronavirus Crisis. The draconian shutdown of the country purportedly to save lives will prove to cause more damage than the Coronavirus.
- In truth, there were NO experts in how to deal with this unique crisis when it began in earnest. Just because a person has MD or PhD behind his name or Smichas Rabbonim, or for that matter a politician or a judge, does not make him an expert at how a unique public health crisis should be managed. Even most health care policy professionals had no experience in the best way to handle corvid-19 since it is a new disease, whose level of lethality, contagion, cure and prevention was heretofore unknown. As soon as it started spreading and killing people, the first reaction was, as in the initial turmoil of surprise battle attack, to retreat and regroup, which certainly makes sense. Thus, draconian measures were quickly established for the entire population; closing of schools, closing houses of prayer and even private prayer gatherings, non-essential businesses, government offices, sheltering in place, banning gatherings (even of immediate family), wearing masks in public, social distancing, frequent hand sanitizing, etc. It soon became apparent that among the population there were different risk levels. (Healthy) Children and young adults were at extremely low risk, more often than not, upon being infected, exhibiting mild or no symptoms. Some areas of the country, such as Utah suffered very few deaths. Elderly and immuno-compromised individuals are at the greatest risk for deadly effects of the disease; namely respiratory system failure. But even as the nature of the disease became apparent, the draconian measures were not modified to reflect these facts. Should “one size fits all” be the right approach in confronting the crisis? At this point we know how to protect the most vulnerable individuals to a tolerable risk level. The rest of society, including the great (unknown) number of individuals who were infected and recovered, and those to whom the disease is not (generally) a mortal threat, could and should resume the routine of a vibrant society, and with the proper precautions, can do so without jeopardizing themselves or the vulnerable.
- Schools, and all businesses should be reopened, perhaps at first maintaining social distancing, limiting the number of people in any one place and masks, except school children, who should freely mix, since for them it may not be a bad idea to become infected, so that they can develop immunity (like we do for Chickenpox). Every day the draconian measures are continued, the economy suffers damage, some of which is irreparable. Eventually, even before a bona fide cure or vaccine is found, the society will have to reopen and the disease will not miraculously disappear with time. When you stick your finger in the dam to prevent a flood, it can be for a minute or a year; when you pull it out the waters are still there ready to flood. Kicking the can down the road is unproductive and most likely, very counterproductive.
- How do we know that coronavirus is worse than the dire consequences the protective measures are causing? Millions of people are out of work, many can’t pay their bills. It’s not just the financial burden; many of those people are suffering mental and physical stress and depression.
Many others are suffering emotionally from the isolation requirements. The number of suicides is way up. Yonason Rosenblum wrote a telling article about these factors recently. http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/2047/it-not-about-life-vs-money
- I believe a modified version of the Swedish approach to the crisis is best. In Sweden schools and businesses, even restaurants, remained open. Higher risk individuals can voluntarily take protective measures. Not more than 50 people can gather, many public events have been closed or cancelled. The economy is not greatly affected and the government had no need to spend billions or trillions to keep the society afloat. It is true that the death rate is much higher than in the U.S. or other Scandinavian countries that have shut down the society. But a high percentage (about 33%) of those deaths are from the elderly who are housed in huge nursing homes and due to isolated Muslim neighborhoods who are less prone to taking protective measures (about 8% of the population is Moslem). In the Swedish model, “herd immunity” will greatly mitigate a reemergence of the disease. Yes, Sweden is paying up front, but that usually works better than working up debt to be paid later. As for the number of deaths, theoretically they should peak soon, whereas in other places that require isolation, there is no reason that deaths should peak since the draconian measures will have to be lifted, either gradually or quickly. Thus it is “unscientific” to rely on the present figures. In a year from now we will probably see the rest of the world balance out its numbers close to those in Sweden. One thing I would recommend differently than Sweden is better protection including greater isolation for the elderly and at risk individuals. The top health policy maker for Sweden is Dr. Johan Giesecke, whose medical and health care policy credentials are a mile long. For an honest, accurate and comprehensive analysis of the Swedish model, see Dr. Giesecke’s interview. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/04/18/swedish_epidemiologist_johan_giesecke_ why_lockdowns_are_the_wrong_policy.html?utm_source=spotim&utm_medium=spotim_recirc ulation
- Hydroxychloroquine, is it a game changer (as President Trump touted), does it work, is it safe and should it be used? Lately, the President has been all but mum on it. His medical authority, Dr. Anthony Fauci has argued that Hydroxychloroquine is not effective and is dangerous for the heart. A few small studies have been prominently presented in the media, indicating Hydroxychloroquine is no good. However, here in America there is at least one doctor, an Orthodox Jew, who happens to be a community doctor for the Chasidic village of Kiryat Joel and who has seen and treated thousands of covid-19 disease patients. His name is Dr. Vladimir (Zev) Zelenko. He has developed a regimen of Hydroxychloroquine+Zinc+Azinthromycin, which he claims has worked extremely well when given at the right stage of the disease and to the right people (he doesn’t recommend it for young people whose symptoms are light or for people on death’s door in the hospital). He has looked at the negative studies, such as the recent VA study, and claims they are totally bogus and designed to fail. Furthermore, he claims Hydroxychloroquine in the dosage that he prescribes is safe. He has been trying to convince the world to use his regimen and has met with success in several foreign countries that are serious. But here in the U.S., the FDA requires long drawn-out studies before you can recommend a drug and until then it is deemed “unproven” and should not be used since it could possibly cause more harm than good. The countries using Dr. Zelenko’s regimen such as Honduras, Turkey and Ukraine, have categorically stated it is a wonder drug saving 100s of lives.
- Are politics and financial considerations entering into the coronavirus pandemic? Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola and some other viruses was a complete failure. Gilead spent 1 billion dollars developing it and now is trying to get it repurposed for covid-19. Allegedly, some early studies show promise and it is being pushed by some on Wall Street and even mentioned by Dr. Fauci as a possible cure for coronavirus, while at the same time, Fauci and others are dismissing or ignoring Dr. Zelenko’s regimen of Hydroxychloroquine+Zinc+Azinthromycin. I have spoken to a top immunologist in our community and he believes Remdesivir won’t work well for covid-19. It appears obvious Gilead and its investors are trying to recoup their tremendous losses at the expense of the taxpayer. Remdesivir is very expensive and must be given intravenously. At thousands of dollars per treatment, even if the patient dies, they will claim no medication works 100%, but it won’t hurt (they are proposing to use it only on people who are severely ill) and is worth the try… even if it can’t be proven it helped anyone at all. The entire regimen of Hydroxychloroquine+Zinc+Azinthromycin costs at most $20, and when it will be publically proven that it is the game-changer for coronavirus, people will wake up and understand that Remdesivir is a scam. See the remarks of the top medical researcher in France, Dr. Didier Raoult, commenting on both Hydroxychloroquine and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhoi1JKjClk
- People will have a lot to be angry about, because Dr. Zelenko has been pleading for months with local, state, and federal governments to authorize mass administration of his regimen. Had they listened to him, he claims 90% of the lives lost, could have been saved. He also claims that a lighter regimen of Hydroxychloroquine+Zinc works prophylactically. He himself was very sick a few years ago and miraculously recovered, therefore he is in the category of immuno-compromised and has been taking his prophylactic regimen. He has seen thousands of ill covid-19 patients since this began, and he has not contracted the disease. Assuming Dr. Zelenko is correct, there was no need to shut down society and the economy… at least for so long. By the way, Dr. Zelenko with a German research team jointly plan to present a paper very soon that should be scientifically definitive.
- There is an on-going outrageous media circus against the efficacy and safety of Hydroxychloroquine+Zinc+Azinthromycin. In several states, most prominently NY, the governor has issued an executive order banning pharmacies from filling a legitimate doctor ordered prescription of Hydroxychloroquine unless the patient could prove they tested positive for covid-19. It makes no difference that a doctor made a clinical diagnosis of the illness and prescribed Dr. Zelenko’s regimen. Dr. Zelenko and others who know the efficacy of his drug regimen have characterized Gov. Cuomo’s restriction: a crime against humanity. One of the claims of Cuomo and his ilk is that there won’t be enough of the medicine to go around for individuals suffering from approved uses, namely, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and malaria (very little malaria in NY state). But I ask, is the blood of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and malaria sufferers redder than that of covid-19 sufferers? Oh, the FDA hasn’t approved Hydroxychloroquine for covid-19 except as experimental and it is hyped as having dangerous side effects (no one mentions the side effects of Remdesivir, which are respiratory failure and blood biomarkers of organ impairment, including low albumin, low potassium, low count of red blood cells, low count of platelets that help with clotting, et al. Of course it is mostly given to severely ill people). According to Dr. Zelenko, Dr. Raoult and rheumatologists who have been prescribing Hydroxychloroquine for decades, they don’t know of a single case of serious side effects, the claims it damages heart rhythm is nothing but a big lie (it may be true if 10 times the prescribed dose is taken or the patient is very sick with other problems). The doctors who have experience with it unanimously claim it is safe. See the following news report by Laura Ingram. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RexUJeWmzSE
- I am not qualified to attest to how Zelenko’s regimen works. But I will parrot a general explanation that may have important ramifications. Zinc is a key to blocking the virus from propagating. However, ionized zinc cannot penetrate the cell membrane in order to interfere with the virus’s RNA function and needs an ionophore to carry it into the cell. Hydroxychloroquine is a zinc ionophore (among other therapeutic functions to counter the virus). What I have discovered (with a little internet research) is that several other compounds, naturally occurring in plants, are also zinc ionophores and should be almost as effective as Hydroxychloroquine in this regard. The two main ones are Quercetin and EGCg (Epigallocatechin gallate). Extracts of EGCg made from Green tea in capsule forms are commonly sold over the counter and studies have shown this compound, even by itself, to promote good health in many functions, the same is true of Quercetin (also plant based). Compounds of zinc such as Zinc Sulphate and Zinc Gluconate are also commonly and cheaply available over the counter. Some health care professionals are recommending using this combination (Zinc+EGCg or Quercetin) to counter covid-19. I am sure research into this therapy is in progress. Ask your health care professional if it would be beneficial for you to take these supplements; perhaps as prophylaxis against the severe effects of covid-19.
- After these introductory remarks, I am expressing my opinion of how we should go forward. Of course I don’t have control over governmental mandates, but I do commend Governor Hogan for removing the restrictions on golf, tennis and recreational boating; these activities should never have been banned in the first place. Tefila B’tzibur, is tremendously important and there is no reason now for not dovening with a minyan. Even the state did not ban gatherings of ten people. I am not talking about opening shuls and dovening as usual. I mean, as I have commented in the past, that ten people who know each other form a group that meets in a large room, be it in a shul, a classroom or a private house (certainly outside is no problem). Once the group is formed, it does not allow random individuals, walk-ins, to join. The meeting place is large enough so that the mispallelim can be safely spread out. Each one has his own siddur and chumash. All sensible safe practices are employed. The groups are limited to vetted individuals who are presently healthy. High risk individuals should not be accepted to join a group. If everybody in a group is taking a daily regimen of Zinc+EGCg, even better. Normally, the only time two people have to be in proximity of each other is by Krias HaTorah. That can be remedied by: 1. the Baal Koreh and the Oleh wearing masks, 2. the Oleh is the Baal Koreh, 3. the Baal Koreh receiving all the aliyos, 4. Opening a second Sefer Torah for the Oleh to follow along from. With the experience of the past few months, intelligent people can figure out how to reasonably safely doven with a minyan. Just now the Agudath Israel of America came out with a set of guidelines for reopening kehillos that are almost identical with the ones I have been recommending in my past comments and have reiterated here in this op-ed.
- Of course there are varying opinions among rabbonim when reopening should begin. I subscribe to the plethora of rabbonim, Gedolei Torah, and health care professionals that we are overdue to reopen Tefila B’tzibur utilizing safety precautions that have been in place for other necessities such as buying food.
Rabbi Sander Goldberg is the Moreh D’asra of Congregation Nachal Chaim in Baltimore. He is also a state judge in the Maryland Tax Court. He has published a sefer in Hebrew, Nachal Chaim Al HaTorah and four popular English Jewish themed novels.