By: Yitzchak Carroll and Elisheva Kohn  | 

Coronavirus Update: IBC Instructor Tests Positive, Infected Student’s Roommate and Cardozo Student Test Negative, and Basketball Team Turned Away from Hotel

Editor's Note (12:55 p.m.): The article has been updated to reflect the current expected tip-off time for the basketball game of 2:20 p.m.

An instructor in the Isaac Breuer College (IBC), an undergraduate Torah studies school within YU, tested positive for coronavirus, the men’s basketball team was turned away from their hotel, several students remain in self-quarantine, and President Ari Berman held another conference call with the student body, as the coronavirus scare in YU continued this week.

Rabbi Reuven Fink, who teaches two courses at IBC, has tested positive for coronavirus, according to an overnight tweet and email announcement by President Berman. The rabbi leads the Young Israel of New Rochelle — the synagogue attended by the YU parent and student who contracted coronavirus earlier in the week — and has been in self-quarantine since earlier in the week. 

According to the university’s tweet, students of Rabbi Fink were “recommended as a precautionary matter to self-quarantine until further notice.” University officials told The Commentator that they immediately reached out to all students in Rabbi Fink’s classes upon discovering that he had tested positive. 

This morning, following instructions from the New York City Department of Health and an infectious disease specialist, university officials informed Fink’s students that they no longer need to self-quarantine, since Fink was asymptomatic and contact was merely casual when he held class on Tuesday. President Berman announced via email that “Individuals who have been in contact with an asymptomatic person who has tested positive for COVID-19 virus do not need to be placed in quarantine.”

On Thursday evening, prior to Rabbi Fink’s diagnosis, President Berman announced in a conference call with the student body that the two students who were transported to Bellevue Hospital early Wednesday morning by FDNY ambulances — including a roommate of the infected student — tested negative for COVID-19, as did the self-quarantined Cardozo student who interned for the father’s law firm. As of yesterday afternoon, approximately ten male students are still in self-quarantine on campus, according to university officials. One female student who is experiencing symptoms has been tested for coronavirus and is awaiting results while in self-quarantine. 

The YU men’s basketball team, who traveled down to Maryland yesterday for the NCAA Division III tournament, was turned away from the Doubletree by Hilton Baltimore-North Pikesville hotel yesterday upon arrival. Head Basketball Coach Elliot Steinmetz (SSSB ‘02), a practicing attorney, alleged discrimination. “I made it very clear to the hotel that it’s discrimination,” Steinmetz told the Associated Press. “I basically said to them: ‘Do you have a checkbox on your website that says that you’ve been in an area with suspected coronavirus?’ And they said no. So I said: ‘Is it just for the guests of Yeshiva University?’ And they said yes. I told them that that’s called discrimination.” As of the time of publication, neither YU Athletics Director Joe Bednarsh, nor Associate Athletics Director Greg Fox, responded to The Commentator’s inquiries.

A Hilton spokeswoman told The Commentator that the hotel is independently owned and operated, and as such, the global brand had no involvement in the decision. A spokesperson for the local hotel denied discrimination, and said that hotel management based their decision to cancel YU’s reservation on the university’s cancellation of events and classes through March 10. The hotel also noted that “a significant portion of the hotel ownership is held by individuals of the Jewish faith,” and that they assisted the team in relocating to another hotel in the area at no additional cost. The group is now staying at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

Due to a coronavirus outbreak in Maryland, the NCAA decided to hold the first two rounds of the Division III men’s basketball tournament slated for this weekend at Johns Hopkins University— including YU’s game against the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Engineers — without spectators. The game, which was initially slated for 1 p.m., has now been moved to 2:20 p.m. per a tweet from YU Athletics, though no explanation has been provided as of the time of publication. An earlier tweet had stated that tip-off was postponed to 2:00 p.m.

Shabbat and Purim programming on both campuses has been cancelled. Students will be given individually-wrapped, pre-prepared shabbat meals to take up to their rooms, though minyanim will be held on the Wilf Campus for those who are not in self-quarantine. Senior Director of Student Life Rabbi Josh Weisberg encouraged Beren students who are feeling well to attend minyanim at Adereth El, a nearby synagogue, since all Shabbat programming, including minyan, has been cancelled on the Beren Campus. Beren and Wilf students who had already paid for Shabbat meal tickets this week will receive free tickets for a future Shabbat meal on campus.

Families have baked various goods and desserts for students who will be on campus for the weekend, and have also offered to host students for both this upcoming Shabbat as well as Purim. Berman observed that “the spirit” on campus was “really strong,” and praised the “overwhelming offerings of support and help” from the greater community.

“I think the situation at Yeshiva has been well-handled,” said Dr. Don Weiss, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s director of surveillance, on the student body conference call. A team of 30 university officials, led by Senior Vice President Josh Joseph, has been coordinating with City health officials to oversee YU’s response to the outbreak. President Berman said that he expects classes to resume on Wednesday, March 11. 

The university also held a “community-wide call” featuring various faculty members yesterday evening, including RIETS Semikhah Director Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, Azrieli Professor David Pelcovitz, Azrieli Dean Rona Novick and Mount Sinai-South Nassau Infectious Diseases Chief Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt. 

President Berman told those who partook in the conference call Thursday afternoon that he will continue to “over-communicate” with the community as the situation unfolds. 

Photo Caption: An instructor of the Wilf Campus has tested positive for COVID-19. 
Photo Credit: The Commentator