Spike in coronavirus in Israel’s capital spreads nationwide

118 cases in one day * 13,702 teachers, students in isolation

A worker from the Jerusalem municipality disinfects a city school. June 3, 2020.  (photo credit: COURTESY JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)
A worker from the Jerusalem municipality disinfects a city school. June 3, 2020.
The number of coronavirus cases in Israel is exponentially rising as the government pushes to keep schools open.
The Health Ministry reported 118 people tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of patients since the start of the pandemic to 17,495. At last count, there were 2,191 active cases, an increase of 88 cases from the day before, and 291 people had died.
Most of the newly infected people likely are schoolchildren and their parents. The number of serious and intubated patients is still on the decline. Thursday night, there were 30 people in serious condition, including 23 on ventilators.
For perspective, between Sunday and Thursday last week (May 24-28), the average number of new cases daily was 29. This week, between Sunday and Thursday, the average number of new cases was 80.
In one day, 6,865 students and teachers entered isolation, according to the Education Ministry, bringing the total number to 13,691. By Friday morning, the ministry was reporting 13,702.
Moreover, some 304 students and teachers have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, an increase of 60 since Wednesday.
The cases are spread across the country, with the greatest number still in Jerusalem (53 in the last three days), according to the Health Ministry. Other places with high infection rates include Tel Aviv (25 in the last three days), Beersheba (17), Bnei Brak (15) and Ashdod (14).
Some 92 schools and preschools are closed, more than double the day before. Among them are schools in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Givatayim, Jaffa, Petah Tivka, Sderot and Tel Aviv. They include elementary schools, high schools and religious and secular institutions.
The spike in infections has led to an increase in the number of people asking to be tested, which has put a strain on the health funds, whose labs handle the screenings.
Thursday afternoon, Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem announced it has received appeals from the health funds for help. Since the outbreak at Gymnasia Rehavia over Shavuot, Jerusalem’s labs have been performing hundreds of tests per day, in addition to the hundreds done by Magen David Adom, Hadassah said.
In a letter to the Health Ministry, Kupat Holim Meuhedet said if the ministry did not stop flooding its labs with tests, there would be criticism as there was in the first wave of severe problems in the laboratories, N12 reported.
“Please inform the Health Ministry’s management that the labs are in a state of crisis, and there is no way that we can maintain this number of tests – and this time it will not be because we are lacking reagents or kits, but because we just don’t have enough manpower,” the letter read.
The Knesset Coronavirus Committee will meet next week to discuss solutions for the laboratories.
However, because the number of tests being taken is much higher than it was last week – the Health Ministry reported testing 12,929 people on Wednesday – the infection rate appears to be dropping to less than 1%.
Late Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s schools would remain open, siding with Education Minister Yoav Gallant, whose policy has been to shut any school with infection but to keep the others operating.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had been recommending to close middle and high schools in Jerusalem only. His professional staff is advocating to close them countrywide.
On Thursday, the Rishon Lezion Municipality decided to take matters into its own hands and rolled out a new model that will be effective on Sunday: Schools will combine frontal and distance learning, and no classroom will have more than 20 students at a time. Students will use time at school to focus on recreation, social and explorative learning.
“We see what is happening across the country, and it is important for us to maintain the health of the students on the one hand and continue the routine of life on the other,” Rishon Lezion Mayor Raz Kinstlich told N12.
The model was developed in collaboration with the Education Ministry, he said, adding that he hopes it will prove to be appropriate for parents, teachers and students.
The fight between the Teachers’ Union and the Education Ministry continued on Thursday. The ministry sent a letter to local municipalities, calling on them to take part in ensuring there is a framework for younger students during the summer break.
“This summer, there will be a breadth of programming available for children in grades one to four and preschoolers,” Gallant wrote, noting that he expects these offerings to run through sometime in August.
As of now, it appears that in-school summer programs will run from July 14 to August 8 and will include after-school programming as well.
The Secondary School Teachers’ Association and the Elementary School Teachers’ Union have not finalized an agreement to keep schools open for nine extra days until July 13.
Single yeshiva and seminary students will no longer be able to enter the country, according to a letter disseminated Wednesday by Interior Minister Arye Deri. Students who are married and learning full-time as their job can come to Israel if they received permission on or before May 21. However, no new permits will be granted, he said.
Meanwhile, the Health and Transportation ministries announced that intercity trains will begin fully operating beginning on Monday, June 8.
The trains would help relieve pressure on the bus system and allow easier movement for the public, Transportation Minister Miri Regev said in a statement.
“We will follow and make sure that the public abides by the [Health Ministry’s] rules, keeping in mind social distancing, wearing masks and preventing the entry of passengers with fevers into the station complex,” she said.
Finance Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday said his office was working on expanding measures that would enable more businesses to open while still adhering to the Health Ministry’s Purple Ribbon standard, which is up for renewal.
Among his recommendations are no longer requiring stores to record the name and registration numbers of its customers, allowing employees to eat in their office cafeteria and shifting the regulation on allowing only 50 people to operate with two meters between them to something more accessible.
“We will maintain our health and livelihoods,” Peretz said.
According to the latest statistics from the Israeli Employment Service, more than 110,000 people are looking for work.