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Easter is going on with screens

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On a recent Tuesday morning at their usual time, more than a dozen women in New Jersey hugged their rabbi – practically. Like many gods, the Highland Park Conservative Temple is closed.

For people celebrating beloved holidays this month, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing them to balance the religious imperative to come together with public health requirements to stay apart.

Like others, the Highland Park congregation of nearly 400 families is leaning on technology to recreate life’s disturbed rituals as best they can.

The big topic for the women’s meeting was how to handle Easter, which begins Wednesday night. Some of the women, most of them older, worried about the risk of shopping for food that meets Easter’s guidelines.

Rabbi Eliot Malomet was firm but compassionate about the need to avoid the typical Easter dinner, or Seder, filled with loved ones. Households only or vacation collections via webcams should do this year.

“We will sit at the Cedar and cry and get through this,” he said.

The Highland Park Temple has held online services, including a minyan twice daily, a gathering to recite prayers. Rabbi Malomet is planning a short greeting online before the traditional Easter dinner.

Rabbi Malomet had to overcome some early mistakes with virtual worship. The first day of the minyan over Zoom – or “zoominyan,” as he called it – participants created a racket until he thought he could turn off everyone’s microphones.

The rabbi also implemented a new label for virtual worship: For example, no breakfast during the service at 7 o’clock.

(More in The Times: How to introduce some new characters – even emoji – to your socially distanced Seder.)

One of the odd and disturbing symptoms of Covid-19 – a loss of sense of smell – can make it useful for detecting coronavirus bloating early.

The New York Times who contributed with opinion author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz recently mapped Google searches related to odor loss and found that they overlapped with the state’s coronavirus prevalence rate.

This symptom is unusual in our typical illnesses. That’s what makes our doctor Google searches about it a potentially useful predictor of coronavirus hotspots in some areas, said David Lazer, a recent social science calculator. More research is needed to understand the link between search behavior and health status, he said.

I wrote about 2014 research by Dr. Lazer and others who found that Google search data could not detect the seasonal influenza outbreak exactly. Google’s predictions were very off base – including a conclusion that searches related to high school basketball were flu predictors. (Like the flu, basketball season happens in winter.)

A perennial challenge to researching diseases through our Internet searches is that habits change as we learn about symptoms and search for them more regularly. There are also demographic differences in search behavior.

In his seasonal flu research, for example, Dr. Lazer that men tended to be better predictors of seasonal flu trends than women. Men were less likely to search for personal health information on Google regularly. When they typed into Google, they were more likely to do so while they were ill.

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