Gamzu: Still uncertain if morbidity declining nationwide

Gamzu said that those who compare COVID-19 to seasonal flu “do not understand” the disease.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaking at inauguration ceremony of Shield of Israel headquarters, Airport City. (photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaking at inauguration ceremony of Shield of Israel headquarters, Airport City.
(photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
There are signs that the infection rate in Israel is declining, but according to coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu, “there is still no certainty of a decline across the country.”
Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, he said that he views the current closure as effective, but it is still hard to discern how effective.
“When will I know if things are better?” he asked. “I will know by the end of this week.”
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported 5,657 new patients out of 52,150 screened – meaning 10.8% were positive. This is a big drop from the 15% peak that Israel saw only about a week ago.
Gamzu said he believes that the drop in the high number of patients is a result of the restrictions that were placed on the country before Rosh Hashanah and the near total lockdown rolled out before Yom Kippur. However, he said that with Sukkot and fewer haredim (ultra-Orthodox) being tested and the country still not seeing the results of gatherings on the fast day, which took place less than 10 days ago, decisions on changing restrictions will only be able to be made next week.
“Since it is the holiday frenzy, we are not convinced with certainty that the reproduction number – the R number – has dropped under one,” he said.
Each sick person needs to infect less than one other person to ensure a decline in morbidity.
On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet convened and determined that it is unlikely there will be any restrictions loosened even before October 18, Gamzu confirmed. He said that it was he who insisted at the meeting that no decisions be made before October 14 when the picture will be clearer.
He added that the real test will be what happens in Israel after the holidays, which end Saturday night at sundown. Then, he said, people must still adhere to the guidelines.
“I’m sorry. It is uncomfortable, and it certainly hurts all of us in livelihood, life and freedom,” he said. “But we owe it to ourselves to get out of this situation.”
Gamzu said that those who compare COVID-19 to seasonal flu “do not understand” the disease, which has caused the collapse of health systems around the world.
At the beginning of his talk, he had detailed how he had visited several hospitals in the morning to see how they are handling the crisis. He told a story about a nurse at Meir Medical Center who, when he arrived, had just finished resuscitating a young woman who was suffering from the disease – a younger patient with no underlying medical conditions who was fine for a day and a half and then suddenly became severe.
Galilee Medical Center reported Tuesday morning that four COVID-19 patients died within a few hours of each other.
Gamzu said that among the differences between the first and second waves of the virus is that there are more young people in hospital and that the death rate has spiked to as many as 30 people per day.
The hope is that as the rate of infection goes down, so too will the number of serious patients, which will help ease overcrowding and stress on the health system. It should also lower the death rate.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported 872 patients who were in serious condition, including 220 who were intubated. Some 20 people died between midnight and press time, bringing the death toll to 1,784.
Moreover, the number of tests per day remains low – much lower than before Yom Kippur, when as many as 70,000 people were screened in a single day. Gamzu has said that a minimum of 30,000 people must be tested per day to get an accurate reading of the rate of infection.
At Monday’s hours-long cabinet meeting, the Health Ministry and Gamzu presented a multi-stage exit strategy that was prepared in consultation with the National Security Council and a team of internal and external health experts. The plan is known to have at least eight stages and to require a minimum of two weeks between them.
Each stage is tied to a number of sick patients and the reproduction rate. No loosening of restrictions is supposed to start until Israel hits an R of 0.8, a number the country has not seen since May.
The coronavirus cabinet will meet again on Thursday but, as Gamzu stressed, no decisions are expected to be made. That will only happen next Monday.
He did mention the possibility of opening up parts of the country and not others, if there is a huge differentiation between areas. Currently, the numbers show that about 23% of haredim screened are testing positive and only 8% of Arabs and the rest of the public.
“It really depends on all of us,” Gamzu said regarding exiting the lockdown.
He noted that it is of utmost importance to wear a mask in closed spaces, which is where most infection occurs, according to all international studies.
Gamzu’s talk came against the backdrop of a report published Tuesday by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, which is overseen by the IDF. The report showed that there are long-term symptoms of the virus, including heart disease that can last for months after the virus has left the system. It said long-term repercussions occur in about a third of patients, regardless of age and basic health.
The report also said that the aftereffects of the virus could have significant consequences both on public health and the economy.
Finally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu piloted the Sofia 15-minute coronavirus test on Tuesday. The FDA-approved test is performed only using respiratory specimens collected from individuals who are suspected of having coronavirus.
The tests began being used at senior centers throughout the country on Tuesday. Eventually, the prime minister said, the tests will be used at the airport, hospitals and in health fund clinics.
Netanyahu took the test at Jerusalem’s Neve Horim senior living center. He tested negative.