COVID-19 in Israel’s schools: What’s really happening?

There is fear that children could constitute a higher percentage of serious cases in this wave, so health officials are keeping a close eye on the infection rate in Israeli schools.

 CHILDREN WEAR face masks upon returning to school for the first time since the heartbreak of COVID-19, in May of last year. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
CHILDREN WEAR face masks upon returning to school for the first time since the heartbreak of COVID-19, in May of last year.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The Omicron wave appears to be targeting children around the world, and Israel is expected to be no different.

There is fear that children could constitute a higher percentage of serious cases in this wave, so health officials are keeping a close eye on the infection rate in Israeli schools.

On Tuesday, with 45% of new daily cases among children and teens under age 18 and nearly 50,000 students in isolation, the Education Ministry shared data on how the system is handling the virus.

According to the Health Ministry, some 20,000 five-year-old children and 191,000 children between the ages of six and 11 have received at least one shot of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. Some 27,000 of these children received their vaccines in school, the Education Ministry reported Tuesday.

In total, 43% of first- through sixth-graders are exempt from isolation, either due to vaccination or because they recovered from the virus within the last six months.

 Children aged 5-11 receive their first first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at a Clallit i vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 23, 2021.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Children aged 5-11 receive their first first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, at a Clallit i vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 23, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

In addition, some 625,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 have received two shots of the vaccine – including 193,000 who have had three shots – making the majority of them exempt from isolation.

At the start of the school year, Israel launched the “Green Class” program, a brainchild of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. For most of the year, the program has been operating in some 604 green classrooms, including 84 preschool ones. Collectively, these classrooms have allowed about 15,500 students to study frontally.

In the last two months, the program has expanded and is now operating in about 3,400 classrooms, allowing an additional 91,000 students to learn frontally, the Education Ministry said.

Moreover, the Magen Hinuch (Education Shield) program is currently underway in 330 educational institutions, with the goal of expanding to another 600 schools within a month, it said.

About 90,000 students are tested each week through the program. To date, more than 810,000 students have been tested.

Finally, according to the Education Ministry, air purifiers meant to reduce morbidity have been installed in 150 classrooms, and work is underway to expand this pilot program to more schools and preschools.

Until now, the government had said it would send children to learn at home if their city was red and at least 70% of students in their classrooms were not vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the government approved a proposal by Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton to send children to Zoom classes based on the level of infection in their schools and not in their cities. That should mean many more students will be able to have frontal learning.