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How one Covid-19 patient, a mother of 7, is dealing with prolonged isolation

As a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish school, the wife of a rabbi and a mother of seven, Brocha Leah Greenberg would, in normal times, come face to face with dozens of people in a typical day.

So she's been letting people know, through emails, texts and on Facebook, that she tested positive for Covid-19 days ago, on March 18. But she said she had self-quarantined herself and her family since March 12, when she first suspected she had the virus.

"I come in contact with a lot of people," she said, and she thought about those people when she learned of her illness.

"The only thing that went through my mind was feeling anxious and stressed about infecting others," she said.

She said her family hasn't left the home, though the children have been allowed to play in a fenced backyard. They've been getting groceries delivered. This will continue, she said, for as long as it takes, should any of the children become infected with the novel coronavirus.

She was not hospitalized and has not been bed-ridden. In fact, she's been up and around like always. "I am blessed my symptoms are very similar to a typical flu," Greenberg said.

In early March, she and others from Buffalo's Jewish community traveled to a religious celebration, a simcha, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, before it became a hotbed for coronavirus. Days after Greenberg returned home to Amherst, she said she felt a severe headache, a symptom that other Covid-19 patients said was among the first they experienced.

Greenberg said her physician told her it was likely a sinus headache. Still, when aches and chills developed she suspected the coronavirus and pressed the Erie County Health Department to test her.

(Erie County)

The Health Department, facing a shortage of testing kits, said she was not experiencing the array of symptoms that made her a likely case, Greenberg said. In particular, she did not have shortness of breath or a fever.

Greenberg said she then mentioned her role as a teacher and her travel to Crown Heights. She couldn't be sure she caught it there, but that fact apparently impressed the Health Department. The number of coronavirus cases there, and in other parts of New York City, was spiking. A news outlet that serves the Jewish community in Brooklyn soon reported that there were "likely hundreds of cases" in Crown Heights.

On March 16, she drove to the drive-up testing location that the Health Department had set up on William Street in Lancaster, and a swab was taken. Two days later, she learned of the positive test result. She thinks she was Erie County's 21st person confirmed with Covid-19. The number has more than quadrupled since then.

The Health Department insisted on testing her entire family, Greenberg said, in part to help determine the susceptibility of elementary-age children to the virus. Swabs from the family were taken on William Street late Wednesday, but the results are not yet known, she said.

Asked about that report Monday, county Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who has repeated that the county must be careful about who gets tested because it has limited testing resources, said she could not comment on why any particular person was tested.

"We take each on a case-by-case basis," she said.

On Friday, the president of Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, an Orthodox synagogue on Maple Road in Williamsville, emailed a letter to its members.

"I would like to share with you some important information that you need to know," Richard Berger wrote. "There likely has been transmission of the virus in our community."

He told the members about Greenberg's illness and reminded them that she had been teaching at the Ohr Temimim school, where many Young Israel families send their children.

"Many adults and her students had contact with Brocha Leah before she began her isolation," he wrote.

Greenberg estimates the school has about 110 students and 25 staff. Instruction now takes place online, and she taught her second-graders online Monday.

While her life remains busy, she's had time to think about her wish for others right now.

"Although I got it very mildly, obviously there are people suffering very severely from it," she said.

"I would like to wish that all those who are in quarantine and are feeling isolated that they should feel the embrace of God even in their loneliness, and that they should have the patience and good humor to get through this trying time," she said.

"And I feel that at a time like this it is most important to find a way to like the people that we love most, every day and all day.

"We are a family of nine sitting in this house, all basically on top of each other," she continued. "It is day 11 in which nobody has walked out this door. And I find that's the crucial thing that is getting us through – finding a way to like the people we love the most, every day and all day."

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