Health Ministry, Home Front Command to increase COVID-19 testing efforts

"No one wants to get into a situation where suddenly dozens or hundreds of coronavirus patients are discovered in a security company or in an essential institution."

IDF technicians carry out coroanvirus testing, Israel, July 15, 2020 (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
IDF technicians carry out coroanvirus testing, Israel, July 15, 2020
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
The Health Ministry and Home Front Command are preparing to increase efforts to encourage Israelis to get tested for the novel coronavirus, as the number of tests has remained low in recent days and the percentage of positive results has risen.
Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu warned the Coronavirus Cabinet on Monday that the R number had risen above 0.8 and even exceeded one in Arab-Israeli communities.
Gamzu said that one of the biggest challenges is that people do not want to get tested: “This is an ongoing war. The tests are free and still there is a state of unwillingness to go and be tested.”
The R number is the number of people an infected person will infect on average. If it is below 1, the person will infect less than one other person, meaning the outbreak is decreasing. If it is above 1, then the person will infect more than one person and the outbreak is rising.
The commissioner explained that increasing tests and public responsiveness, as well as more extensive enforcement and treatment of local closures in disease centers were needed to bring the R number back down.
Head of Public Health Services Sharon Alroy-Preiss added that the Health Ministry is considering how to enact a broader and more proactive testing policy.
On Monday, the ministry launched a social media campaign with the Clalit, Maccabi, Leumit and Meuhedet HMOs to encourage Israelis to get tested for the novel coronavirus, even if they're not experiencing symptoms.
A new Israeli PCR testing system developed by the Health Ministry will reduce the wait time for coronavirus test results from eight hours to four hours, the Health Ministry announced on Monday.
The new system, which is run by robots, will enter service at labs and hospitals around the country in the coming weeks.
A number of more rapid coronavirus tests have also been developed by Israel or with Israeli participation, including a gargle test developed by Virusight Diagnostic and a 30-second coronavirus test being jointly developed by India and Israel.
 
LAST WEEK, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on Israelis to get tested for the virus, with the ministry launching a campaign entitled "If there's a doubt, there's no doubt – just get tested!"
New Health Ministry regulations allow for even those without symptoms to get tested, even if they don't have a referral from their doctor.
"A significant means of eradicating the coronavirus is to perform coronavirus tests," explained the Health Ministry "In this way, the patients and contacts can be located, quarantine can be implemented and the chain of infection can be cut.
Earlier this week, Home Front Command presented a plan to begin offering testing at the entrances of large workplaces and malls in order to increase and encourage it, according to Ynet.
The plan would have Home Front Command place soldiers in front of workplaces with hundreds or thousands of employees and in front of malls and shopping centers in order to conduct mass coronavirus testing.
Malls and large businesses may only be able to open during the winter on condition that they have such testing available. Businesses may even be required to test employees returning from unpaid leave.
Home Front Command is aiming to begin implementing the plan before winter begins full force amid concerns that seasonal illnesses including the flu could overload hospitals.
During a meeting at the headquarters of the command's Alon Unit, officials discussed possible locations for the testing stands; coordination with companies and institutions whose employees will be tested; and the deployment of forces needed for the plan.
"This is definitely on the agenda and will be seriously considered," Col. Ariel Blitz, commander of the Dan district in the Home Front Command, told Ynet. "One of the things that bother us is that we will not know about covert infections due to a lack of testing, because then asymptomatic people walk around outside and affect others. We talk a lot with the authorities on how to encourage the public to get tested in an effort to cut the chain of infection quickly."
The soldiers at the testing stands will not be able to force shoppers or employees to get tested however, according to Ynet.
"It is the money-time to act to increase the tests, in the days when the morbidity has dropped and there is a sense that the second wave is behind us," said Blitz. "Only if we reach the population ourselves and examine it can we remove those who go out with coronavirus and spread it unknowingly from large workplaces.
"No one wants to get into a situation where suddenly dozens or hundreds of coronavirus patients are discovered in a security company or in an essential institution," he said.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.