Edelstein: 10%-11% of all Israelis tested for coronavirus are positive

Death rate tops 700, serious patients 400 as Health Ministry rethinks plans to open schools on September 1

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tours the Supergum factory in the West Bank, which makes masks, on August 18, 2020 (photo credit: OR KAPLAN)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tours the Supergum factory in the West Bank, which makes masks, on August 18, 2020
(photo credit: OR KAPLAN)
One month after coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu took his position, and only two weeks before school starts, Israel’s morbidity rate remains worryingly high, according to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Speaking Tuesday during a tour of a new mask-making factory in the West Bank, Edelstein said that, after daily testing at senior living facilities and other survey screenings are removed from the number, the percentage of people whose results are positive for novel coronavirus out of those tested every day stands at between 10% and 11%.
“That is a very worrisome number,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported that 1,660 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, plus another 1,064 between midnight and press time on Tuesday.
The death toll, total number of patients and the number of patients in serious condition hit milestones on Tuesday, surpassing 700, 95,000 and 400 respectively. The death toll was 705 at press time, the total number of patients since the start of the pandemic 96,093, and the number of serious patients 404 – including 117 who were intubated.
Moreover, a new report by researchers at the Hebrew University showed that if the number of moderate and serious patients continues at its current rate, Israel could see 800 total people dead from coronavirus by the end of the month.
The research team also reported that the risk of a spike in coronavirus cases has increased. To stop it, they said, “preparations must be made to tighten the current restrictions, that is because another outbreak at the current level of infection will be significantly more severe than the previous wave.”
They said that the declining trend in cases that began in late July and marked a stabilization of the second wave changed for the worse last week. They said that the number of patients in moderate and serious condition is similar to what was in June, the beginning of the second wave.
“This observation raises fears of another eruption,” they said, stressing that this would not be considered a third wave, but rather the exacerbation of the second wave.
The report recommended that the government halt all gathering in closed spaces, similar to the restrictions that helped stabilize the second wave.
Earlier in the day, similar sentiments were expressed by Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto.
“I am sorry to ruin the party,” he said at the Knesset Tuesday morning, “but... we are concerned.”
Grotto was responding to a comment by Knesset Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton that the ministry is seeing a decline in infection and therefore, cultural activities should be allowed to resume to a great extent.
The topic of the committee meeting, however, was the opening of the school year on September 1.
Grotto said that “we may see a change for the worse in the coming days, so we do not want to make decisions that will change at the last minute,” meaning that he did not want to commit that schools will open as planned, despite a promise by the Education Ministry.
ACCORDING TO the current plan, children would go to school in person and/or learn from home depending on their age. Students in preschool will have a full six-day school week and will operate without restrictions.
The first and second grades will learn almost as usual, five days per week and with their normal classroom sizes. Third and fourth graders will also study five days per week, but in groups of not more than 18 students, with each sitting at a separate table.
In contrast, fifth- and sixth-grade students will learn partially from school and partially via remote learning. Students will be expected to be in their classrooms twice a week, in capsules of no more than 18 students; the other three days they will be at home.
Special education students, at-risk youth and integration children will study as a matter of routine, even when educational institutions are closed. Education teams will be trained to work with special populations under these circumstances.
Following the framework, students in preschool through second grade and all special education students will not be required to wear masks. Students in third grade will wear them during recess; only children in fourth grade and above will be required to wear masks all the time.
All students will be obligated to bring in a signed health form every day.
Grotto said that in addition to all of this, the Health Ministry is working on a protocol for ensuring proper ventilation in classrooms, such as making sure that windows are opened in closed spaces.
He noted that there has been an increase in morbidity among fourth and fifth graders, and that the ministry is “afraid to open the upper grades because seventh graders and above are a major source of infection. There is a question about that, especially when we are in a sensitive situation,” Grotto said.
At the Knesset meeting, chairman of the National Parents’ Leadership, Merom Schiff, said that parents do not believe the current plans are safe for the country’s children, anyway.
“The outline will force hundreds of thousands of children to stay home alone all year while being exposed to uncontrolled dangers on the Internet and on the street,” Schiff said, warning that parents would hold a strike and not allow their children to attend if something didn’t change.
“Health is not just about coronavirus, it is also what happens to children mentally,” he said.
“This morning, the National Parents’ Leadership sends a clear and sharp message,” the chairman added. “We are no longer silent.”
Later, in a briefing for the foreign press, Gamzu said he believes that Israel should reconsider its plan for students in grades seven through 12 who “almost have the same infection rate as grown-ups.”
He said that he plans to present a new plan to the coronavirus cabinet on Thursday that would involve allowing younger children to attend schools in capsules and ask older students to learn completely from home or even push off the start of their school year until after the Sukkot holiday.
“I will be at the government meeting on Thursday and I will present the pros and cons,” Gamzu said. “The cabinet will have to decide.”