Smaller percentage of people screened for coronavirus test positive

Currently, there are 71,509 people with the virus in Israel, 840 who are in serious condition, among them 224 who are intubated.

Health care workers take test samples to check for coronavirus, Lod, July 5, 2020 (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Health care workers take test samples to check for coronavirus, Lod, July 5, 2020
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
The number of people who tested positive for coronavirus out of the total number screened is starting to trend downward, giving health officials cause for cautious optimism.
As the country exited the first day of the Sukkot holiday, the Health Ministry reported that 7,024 new patients were diagnosed with coronavirus the day before.
Currently, there are 71,509 people with the virus in Israel, 840 who are in serious condition, among them 224 who are intubated. The death toll stands at 1,682 – 22 people died between midnight and press time.
Israel went from being one of the countries with the lowest mortality rates to a country with one of the highest per day for its population size. Moreover, the number of new patients per day is also among the highest in the world per capita – but this is connected to how many people are screened, as well.
On Friday morning, a report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, which is overseen by the IDF, showed that the percentage of positive results are high and rising – an indication that morbidity is even more widespread than the country thought.
However, the numbers are not necessarily indicating such a negative trend.
Speaking Saturday to KAN News, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that the country has “passed the peak, it is important that this week we see a significant downward trend.”
At the same time, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto said, “There is some optimism from the decrease in sick people in the last days, despite the decline not being as much as we saw in March-April.”
Grotto was speaking on Meet the Press.
The numbers do reflect a downward trend.
Israel’s partial closure began two weeks ago, when around 9% of all people screened were testing positive. Between September 18 and September 25 – the date that Israel enacted a more complete nationwide lockdown – that percentage rapidly spiked.
The infection rate rose to 10% on September 20, 11% on September 21, 12% on September 23 and 13% on September 25. It peaked on September 28 at 15%. But in the last few days, the trend has been reversing. On Wednesday, the infection rate was 13%, on Thursday 12% and now around 11%.
“It is too early to know if the trend will stick, but it could mean that the closure is starting to work,” Cyrille Cohen, the head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.
Since it takes between 10 days and two weeks to see the impact of any activity, the high numbers at the start of the lockdown were reflective of what happened before Israel closed. Moreover, there was excessive gathering during the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which led to increased numbers.
“It is cause for cautious optimism,” Cohen stressed, noting that there is concern of gathering during the Sukkot holiday. He also noted that the percentage positive is dependent on who is being tested, and it is possible that fewer religious people – in whose communities the infection rate is high – were not tested ahead of yom tov.
During the first closure, Israel also saw an increase in the first couple of weeks of lockdown, before the numbers started to rapidly decline.
Will it impact Israel’s exit strategy?
The government is likely to base its decision to lighten restrictions not the number of sick patients per day, but on the reproduction number (R) – the number of people that one infected person will pass on the virus. Last week, Gamzu presented a plan that when R reaches an average of 0.8 or less, restrictions can be reduced. When it is 0.8 to 1.1, the status quo will be maintained, and when it rises above 1.1, restrictions will be tightened.
“I think if we do see that the trend continues to go down even a week after the holidays, I think we can start talking practically about an exit strategy,” Cohen said.
Over the holiday, there was an outbreak in the Beit Adnan low-income housing center in the Druze town of Yarka. Some 35 residents and 22 staff people were diagnosed with the virus and are now in isolation.
The police stepped up enforcement over Sukkot in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. Thousands of Israeli police officers, Border Police officers and volunteers, reinforced by IDF soldiers and inspectors, were charged with enforcing the latest set of restrictions and gave out what appeared to be the highest number of tickets for breaking Health Ministry restrictions in a single day.
Police administered 7,000 fines: 5,171 to people who were in places that they were not supposed to be; 1,415 to people not wearing masks; 98 for breaking isolation; and 209 for gathering in a sukkah against protocol. 
In Bnei Brak there were several incidents. Police said they visited 22 synagogues that were operating against the rules of the Health Ministry. People were dispersed from the areas and dozens of fines were given out to people at the scenes.
“The police will continue with increased operational activity throughout the country in order to maintain public peace, security and health,” the organization said in a statement on Friday. The organization added that, “in view of the current state of national emergency and in order to maintain public health and prevent mass infection, the bulk of police activity will focus on smart supervision and enforcement of regulations, with an emphasis on prohibited gatherings and restrictions on movement and trade throughout the country.”