Experts: Life can go back to normal with fast, frequent virus testing

The “Shield of Life” plan would depend on people cooperating and getting tested frequently.

The new “Check2Fly” coronavirus testing lab at Ben-Gurion Airport's Terminal 3, November 9, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The new “Check2Fly” coronavirus testing lab at Ben-Gurion Airport's Terminal 3, November 9, 2020
As the government ponders the rising coronavirus infection rate and considers a third lockdown, a group of medical professionals from Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center released a different plan Tuesday that they are calling “Shield for Life,” which they said would bring society back to normality more quickly than anything that has been tried in the past.
The cornerstone of this plan is frequent, rapid testing for virtually everyone. This would allow the vast majority of Israelis who don’t have the virus to go back to their usual activities and to quickly identify, isolate and treat the small percentage who do.
“Every month that these lockdowns and restrictive regulations continue is a catastrophe for each person individually, and for the nation, it’s an economic catastrophe,” said Prof. Eli Sprecher, deputy director for research, development and innovation at Sourasky Medical Center, who helped develop the plan.
“This plan fundamentally changes the direction of our thinking of how to manage the virus,” he said. “There is now talk of a third lockdown, when, for many, the second lockdown has not yet ended... The lockdown isn’t only about whether you can walk 500 m. or a kilometer from your home. If you’ve lost your job, in effect, you’re still locked down.”
During past outbreaks of contagious diseases, sick people were isolated, but in the current situation, millions of healthy people have been isolated in lockdowns to stop the spread of the disease. But, according to this plan, healthy people need not be locked down en masse.
The “Shield of Life” plan would depend on people cooperating and getting tested frequently. “For many reasons, people haven’t wanted to be tested, people avoid it,” he said.
“When the pandemic first started, the medical establishment thought the ideal test would be one that would identify everyone with the virus,” he said and so the PCR test, which is expensive and must be processed in a lab, became the standard. These tests can detect even small amounts of antibodies and can give a positive result even to those who have amounts of antibodies that are too small to make them infectious. What the Sourasky Medical Center team is recommending are using antigen tests, which return results quickly without needing to be processed in a lab, similar to home pregnancy tests.
“You could take a test, wait 15 minutes for it to be processed and then be able to enter a cafe or a movie theater,” Sprecher suggested. While he acknowledged that these tests do give more false positives, and, more worryingly, false negatives than the PCR tests, he said that it would still be worthwhile to use them to bring the country back to a semblance of normality as people await the distribution of vaccines, which could take many months.
If the public would cooperate, the cost of the tests could easily be paid for, since he estimated that they could bring about half a million unemployed Israelis back to work very quickly, saving the country NIS 3.75 billion in unemployment benefits per month. A dedicated application, one that would be more efficient and user-friendly than similar apps that have been tried in the past, would monitor the results.
The specialists at Sourasky Medical Center, which is in the center of Tel Aviv, consulted with representatives of the culture and retail sectors, which have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, in order to create the “Shield for Life” plan. Among those who helped with the plan were Gabriel Rotter, co-CEO of the Castro clothing chain, and Ronit Arbel, the owner of Arbel Communications, a company that manages all kinds of cultural and outdoor events.
“We are dealing with a very difficult situation and we need to change our perception and think out of the box,” said Sprecher. The hope is that the Health Ministry will read the plan and adopt it. “This plan gives the public an incentive to cooperate with the testing. If they test negative, they will have the opportunity to do things they want. We’ve asked so much of the public. This plan gives them something.”

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