Despite spike in coronavirus cases, most Israeli schools to open Sunday

The total number of coronavirus cases to date in Israel is 17,012 - an increase of 14 in the last day.

FILE PHOTO: Parents wait with their children to enter their elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Israel May 3, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO)
FILE PHOTO: Parents wait with their children to enter their elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Israel May 3, 2020
Schools will stay open despite a recent spike in coronavirus infections across Israel, especially in educational institutions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a Saturday night briefing.
At press time, the Education Ministry said in total, some 587 students and teachers are in isolation and 17 schools and preschools will not open on Sunday – a number that continued to grow overnight as more schools reported cases of the virus.
More than 110 students and around 40 teachers are infected with the virus.
“Those who say that it is over – that the coronavirus is behind us – are wrong,” the prime minister said, stressing that if the data does not improve and if the public does not adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Health Ministry, Israel will once again be closed down.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 113 new sick patients, surpassing a limit set by Netanyahu in May that could put the country back under lockdown. On Saturday night, the prime minister said that officials were monitoring the numbers to see if this was an isolated incident or the beginning of a new trend.
“Going forward, we will tighten our discipline,” Netanyahu emphasized. "If no vaccine is found, the virus will return,” he said, begging the public to stop being complacent. He said that police and municipal inspectors will step up their activities in the coming days and that the public will see an increase in tests.
As for the education system, Netanyahu said that the government has decided not to shut down educational institutions across the country because, “the data does not require this.”
AT A BRIEFING on Friday afternoon, outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said that the majority of new infections emanated from schools – 7% from middle schools and 35% from high schools, which was supported by a report put out by the Education Ministry the next day.
However, most of the infections were centered around one school – Gymnasia Rehavia in Jerusalem – said Education Minister Yoav Galant, who spoke to the public Saturday night after Netanyahu.
According to the Jerusalem Municipality, some 104 students were diagnosed with the virus, 15 staff members and three parents. Kan reported that one of the student’s grandparents was infected and hospitalized as well.
The municipality said that in total, 2,168 people were screened for the novel virus over Shavuot and Shabbat.
Galant said that the schools would see some changes, such as stricter enforcement of social distancing, good hygiene and the wearing of masks. Moreover, students would be taught about coronavirus in hopes that they would help educate their parents. Also, a staff member would be designated to work with the Health and Education ministries to ensure that all coronavirus regulations could be properly followed.
The decision to watch and wait was made by what is known as the Coronavirus Cabinet, whose members include Netanyahu, Galant, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Although Edelstein was not at the Saturday night press conference, his spokesman said that he issued directives during the holiday even though he is religiously observant because it was "pikuach nefesh" (saving of lives).
The ministers reportedly also decided that the opening of event halls and cultural and entertainment centers would not be delayed, but would take place as scheduled on June 14.
As of 7 p.m. Saturday, Israel had 1,917 active coronavirus patients – an increase of nine from the day before. Of the patients, 42 are in moderate condition and 36 are in serious condition, among them 34 who are intubated. The death toll has remained at 284, the Health Ministry reported.
The total number of coronavirus cases to date in Israel is 17,012 – an increase of 14 yesterday.
However, while at first glance the number 14 appears encouraging, it should be noted that the number does not include any of the tests carried out at the drive-through centers on Saturday.
In terms of the number of tests being conducted, on Friday the Health Ministry was reporting that 4,182 people were screened for SARS-CoV-2 the day before and 1.5% of the tests came out positive. This is a significant increase in the positive percentage of tests compared to the previous days, when only around 0.5% came out positive.
The Health Ministry reported the results of only 671 people who were screened on Saturday, so the daily number was expected to increase by morning.
Two Magen David Adom drive-in coronavirus screening centers opened Saturday in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and two more are expected to open in Haifa and Beersheba.
For perspective, during the week of March 15 to 21, the average number of new daily patients was 84. The next week, between March 22 to 28, that number spiked to an average of 390.
Moreover, it was at a press conference on May 4 that Netanyahu said that restrictions would be restored if the Health Ministry saw any of the following three scenarios: More than 100 new patients per day, a doubling of the number of patients in 10 days, or 250 patients in serious condition.
“The Health Ministry is concerned about the increase in the number of patients and the rate of infection, along with trends of indifference and complacency that are expressed in contempt and disregard for the rules,” it said in a statement Saturday evening, noting that newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had met with professionals over the holiday and has directed his team to run a campaign to increase compliance.
“Health Ministry experts reiterate the three ironclad rules: 1 – you must wear a mask in public spaces and workplaces; 2 – you must adhere to good hygiene; 3 – maintain two meters between people.”
On Friday, Bar Siman Tov called on Israelis to refrain from visiting their grandparents, saying it was better to speak with them by Zoom or other means of video conferencing.
Meanwhile, several medical professionals have also become infected or have entered isolation.
On Friday afternoon, two nurses employed by Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera were diagnosed with the virus, causing more than 41 members of the hospital’s staff to go into isolation. Shortly thereafter, a doctor from Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba tested positive, putting 31 members of the staff into isolation.
Later, it was also announced that members of the Beitar Jerusalem youth group were going into isolation after three players tested positive for coronavirus. The groups were reportedly separated for training and did not have access to others in the training compound.
Also among the sick is a boy who learns at a kindergarten for foreign students in southern Tel Aviv. When he tested positive, some 30 children and three staff members went into isolation.
During the Friday briefing, Head of Public Health Sigal Sadetsky said that the country is seeing a spike in infections among foreign workers in general. The next day, the Health Ministry announced that it would open a drive-through testing facility specifically for that community at the old Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.
The Knesset Coronavirus Committee announced it would hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the next steps in the process and how to keep Israelis safe while allowing the economy to move forward.