COVID in Israel: Green Class kicks in as active cases drop below 30,000

Expert says decision to start implementing a coronavirus outline for schools earlier was right, but effects still need to be monitored carefully.

Students on campus at Tel Aviv University (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Students on campus at Tel Aviv University
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

The Green Class outline for schools kicked in on Sunday as the number of active coronavirus cases in Israel dropped below 30,000.

Under the program, students who are exposed to a verified patient will not have to automatically enter quarantine. Rather, they will need to take a PCR test and if found to be negative, undergo a rapid antigen test every day for a week, followed by a final PCR test. Provided that they do not test positive at any stage, they will be able to continue attending school.

At the moment, the program is only effective in “green| areas in the country, as defined by the Health Ministry’s Traffic Light program, which labels municipalities as “green,” “yellow,” “orange” and “red” based on several parameters including morbidity and vaccination rate. Some 60% of Israelis currently live in a “green” area.

The outline was only supposed to be implemented next week, after the end of a pilot in a limited number of schools to check its safety, but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushed health officials for it to commence already this week to reduce the number of children and parents forced to stay at home.

As of Sunday, schoolchildren constituted about half of the country’s 26,000 active cases. At the peak of the fourth wave a few weeks ago, Israel had over 80,000 virus carriers.

In addition, 72,000 students were still in quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

According to Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s School of Public Health, an epidemiologist and a member of the expert committee advising the Health Ministry on the crisis, the decision to start implementing the Green Class this week was correct, although it is necessary to continue to monitor its effects.

“I think the choice of starting the project with ‘green’ areas was a balanced one,” he said.

He noted that studies have demonstrated that children are less likely to spread the infection and the preliminary results of the pilot have been encouraging.

“The main problems that I see are logistical and involve making sure that enough tests are delivered and that schools and parents cooperate,” Davidovitch said.

 Young Israeli students with their parents make their way to school and kindergarten in Jerusalem on September 30, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Young Israeli students with their parents make their way to school and kindergarten in Jerusalem on September 30, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

“It is always about risk management and evaluating pros and cons,” he added. “Considering the mental and cognitive price of leaving children at home, the alternative feels worse.”

Davidovitch said it was possible to see an increase in the number of daily cases as a result of the plan.

“For this reason, it is important to constantly evaluate the effects of the outline and to decide how to move forward with it,” the epidemiologist noted. “I do not believe we have necessarily reached its final form. At the same time, we have to remember that we are in a very different situation than only a few weeks ago.”

Indeed, Israeli data on Sunday continued to show that the disease was receding.

Some 1,029 cases were identified on Saturday with only 1.99% of those screened testing positive, the lowest figures since July.

The R rate or reproduction rate – which measures how many people each virus carrier can infect – remained below 0.8, a sign that morbidity is going down.

The number of patients in serious condition continued to drop and stood at 448, more than 250 fewer than a month earlier.

Most of the individuals in serious conditions were unvaccinated – 336 – or vaccinated with two doses but not a booster – 66.

Among them, five women either pregnant or just after delivery were hospitalized in serious condition at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, in addition to another six in mild or moderate conditions, all of whom were unvaccinated.

“We are witnessing an increase in the number of pregnant women and new mothers in the corona wards,” said Prof. Reli Hershkovitz, director of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Division at the hospital. “Studies show that those who are vaccinated have a lower chance of pregnancy complications for both the mother and the newborn. I call on pregnant women to take responsibility for themselves and their babies and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Over the weekend, an unvaccinated 16-year-old succumbed to post-COVID-19 syndrome.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry launched the program “Vaccines Near Home” in 12 municipalities where, according to a ministry survey, about 50% of all unvaccinated people in the country live.

The project is being carried out in cooperation with the local authorities, healthcare providers and Home Front Command, and it aims at bringing more information and access to vaccines to the residents, initially focusing on the population over 60.

The municipalities included are Beersheba, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beit Shemesh, Rishon Lezion, Netanya, Ashdod, Ramat Gan, Holon, Bat Yam and Ashkelon.