Health Ministry changes Shin Bet surveillance guidelines

Fewer people will be required to enter isolation.

Professor Sigal Sadetsky, head of Public Health at the Health Ministry (photo credit: Courtesy)
Professor Sigal Sadetsky, head of Public Health at the Health Ministry
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Health Ministry said it was shortening the time frame in which the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) will track contacts of people diagnosed with coronavirus.
On Friday, in a letter sent to hospital heads and other medical professionals, Head of Public Health Sigal Sadetsky said that the agency would only contact people who had been near a coronavirus patient within the last 10 days, as opposed to 14.
The 14-day period of isolation, however, remains the same, the ministry said.
The decision is expected to significantly reduce the number of people sent into quarantine.
“Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the Health Ministry’s directive has been to locate contacts of verified patients who were near them within 14 days of receiving a positive result,” Sadetsky wrote.
However, since the second wave started, the Shin Bet program has received heavy criticism for sending tens of thousands of people into isolation in just a few days. The agency had asked to meet with the ministry to discuss the possibility of reducing the time frame. The ministry appears to have agreed.
Sadetsky said the Health Ministry’s previous policy was based on an international understanding that the coronavirus incubation period was two weeks and therefore the patient was contagious for at least that amount of time.
“The Health Ministry reviews its guidelines periodically against the knowledge accumulated in Israel and around the world,” Sadetsky said. “The latest information indicates that the infection period is approximately 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.”
However, given that people infected with coronavirus are often asymptomatic or show mild or unspecified symptoms, the recommendation was to shorten the period but not too much.
She said that “shortening this period… may exonerate many people who are currently required to enter isolation. Cutting the number of contacts under investigation will allow epidemiological investigative teams to focus on the contacts with a higher risk of being positive for corona.”
Moreover, according to the document, going forward, the contacts of patients who know exactly when their symptoms started will be put into isolation only if they were near the sick patient four days before their symptoms began. The contacts OF PATIENTS who do not know when symptoms began, however, will require isolation if they were near them within 10 days of the diagnosis.
Sadetsky said the result would be letting people out of isolation, who would otherwise have entered isolation, and this could have a cost.
“Some may become patients afterwards, but the data shows that this price is reasonable compared to the benefit,” she concluded.