Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told American rabbis on Thursday that synagogues in the US may be able to be open for the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall, but only if certain conditions are met in terms of testing, contact tracing and social distancing.
Speaking during a conference call organized by the Orthodox Union and quoted by Haaretz, Fauci expressed optimism that religious activities could be renewed before the end of the year.
He noted, however, that synagogues would not be able to operate in the same way as prior to the pandemic.
Fauci said that it would be a "good idea" to hold Minyan prayer services once every five days, as opposed to every day, pointing out that he did assume to understand what this would mean “from a spiritual standpoint.”
He also said he expects the virus to still be around in the fall, perhaps as part of a "second wave" of infection. For that reason, there will still need to be restrictions on mass gatherings and people will have to practice social distancing, he added.
The re-opening of synagogues over the next months could be gradual, continued Fauci, who suggested that synagogues in areas that were hit hard by the virus may need to return to operation later than those in other parts of the country.
He added that members of the population who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as elderly people and people with underlying health conditions, could be the last to join services.
The vast majority of synagogues in the US have been closed since mid-March, when restrictions on large gatherings began to be implemented in states across the country. Many synagogues have been offering online services and holding virtual prayers instead of in-synagogue services.
Finally, Fauci asked those on the call to “include me” in their prayers, as he attempts to lead the country’s response to the virus.