Hasidic community in Boisbriand under quarantine after COVID-19 outbreak
'Extraordinary measures' necessary to prevent coronavirus spread, regional public health director says
The entire Hasidic Jewish community of Tash, in the suburb of Boisbriand north of Montreal, is now under a 14-day quarantine following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the community of 4,000.
Members of the ultra-Orthodox community travelled to the state of New York earlier this month to celebrate Purim with other Hasidic communities. That state is now the epicentre of the crisis in the United States, with more than 2,000 deaths recorded.
Police, public health officials and Tash's own security teams are enforcing the quarantine, ordered Sunday by the public health department for the Laurentians region.
Dr. Éric Goyer, the director of public health for the region, said about 15 people who returned from travel have tested positive. Further test results are expected in the coming days.
He said the decision to close off Tash was perhaps the most difficult of his career — but was done to protect the community itself and people in the surrounding area from further spread.
"That's why we take such extraordinary measures," he said at a news conference Monday.
Goyer said only people working in essential services will be allowed to leave, and arrangements will be made to ensure residents have access to food and medicine. Tash has only one small grocer and butcher.
Families are large, Goyer noted — often with six or more children.
There are only two roads in and out of Tash, where residents follow strict religious guidelines and many speak mostly Yiddish.
Goyer said the English-language guidelines for preventing further spread of COVID-19 have been shared with the community, and Tash members have translated them into Yiddish.
"It's quite impressive, the work they do," Goyer said.
"We want to make sure that we intervene in the most respectful way as possible with their customs."
Goyer said public health officials worked closely with Tash last summer, when his department was able to contain a measles outbreak there.
All is calm, community leader says
Isaac Weiss, a community leader, said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak the situation in the community is "very calm, very stable."
Weiss said residents in Tash are staying inside, as recommended. His parents, for example, who are over 60, have stayed inside their home for the past two weeks, he said.
"It's a vibrant community with children wanting to come out to play when it's spring. It's almost empty," he said, noting that synagogues and schools have been closed.
In an interview later in the day, he explained that the quarantine was imposed at the request of the community.
"We still wanted to be responsible so we asked the government to help us do a lockdown, to have control of the community to help our neighbours and everyone else."
He said that while community has been following public health orders, he worries about the stigma of the confirmed cases.
"We ask the neighbours to be the same kind to us as we are doing. Please give us that understanding."
Boisbriand Mayor Marlene Cordato said the quarantine order extends to about 100 Tash families that live in town, but outside the community's borders.
"I want to reassure all of our citizens and [those] of the Jewish community," Cordatos said. "We have taken all the measures and in fact, all the recommendations from the start."
With files from Alison Northcott