Yesterday Montgomery County finally hit the metric where the rate of community transmission of COVID-19 is considered “moderate” rather than “high.” According to the regulation adopted in August as case rates began to surge due to the Delta variant, once we hit seven consecutive days of “moderate” transmission the indoor mask mandate will be automatically lifted. Of course as I often remind people, just because something is not required does not mean it is forbidden and many people will wisely continue to wear masks for some time at least in more crowded settings. I noticed this this past weekend as I drove to New York and then back home. As I stopped in convenience stores along the way, I noticed a reasonable number of people wearing masks even in areas where it is no longer legally required. I also for the first time had to show my CDC Vaccination Record in order to visit my father in the hospital and I would also have had to show it had I gone to a restaurant in New York City. I’m glad that my brother reminded me of this requirement and that I scanned my vaccination record to keep a .pdf of it in my phone.
I really hope that once the mask mandate is ended, it will result in more Kehilat Shalom members choosing to attend Shabbat morning services in person rather than on Zoom. When we first started holding hybrid services in June, we routinely had well more than a minyan present in person and on one occasion we had about twenty people. Then the Delta variant hit as well as a couple of occasions of COVID-19 exposure and attendance dropped.
I realize that the mask mandate is a double disincentive to attend services in person. On the most basic level many people find wearing a mask for the two hours or so that Shabbat morning services last to be uncomfortable. I know that I do, even though I don’t have to wear a mask for most of the service under the County’s exemption for public speaking. Beyond that, the mask mandate is an indication that public health officials consider being in an indoor publicly-accessible place to be somewhat risky behavior.
It would be nice to have a crystal ball and know the trajectory of the pandemic. Will there be another surge due to Thanksgiving or Christmas, or simply because as the weather gets colder people move activities indoors that they had been doing outdoors? I hope that this won’t be the case but it’s impossible to know for sure. But this past Shabbat with 30 or so people present in person, the spirit of the service for those in attendance was palpably different and to my mind, a much better spiritual experience.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian