IDF National Investigations Center at forefront of the war against corona

‘This is a war,’ says Lt.-Col. Raviv Hadar

IDF's National Investigations Center  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF's National Investigations Center
Three months after the IDF’s Alon Headquarters began operations, thousands of soldiers and civilians are working around the clock to get the second wave of the coronavirus under control.
With more than 1,800 deaths, more than the number of Israelis killed during the five-year Second Intifada, the IDF is on the front line of a war unlike one its ever fought.
“This is a war. The country is in an emergency and we have to look at it that way,” said Lt.-Col. Raviv Hadar from the National Investigations Center.
The center is part of the IDF’s Alon Coronavirus Headquarters, situated at the Home Front Command’s base near Ramle. The headquarters operate under the command of Brig.-Gen. Nissan Davidi alongside the Health Ministry.
It’s made up of four departments, the National Investigations Center, testing, quarantine facilities and laboratories. Using military technology to centralize data from the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom, the IDF aims to cut the chain of infection within hours rather than days.
Since the unit opened in mid-August with 700 civilian tracers working for the Health Ministry, it’s grown to 1,300 and aims to have close to double that by December.
Thousands have been trained by nurses from the Health Ministry in a week-long course, but not everyone passes.
Supervised by nurses, the contact tracers are not only regular conscripts from the Education Corps and other non-combat troops and reservists but hundreds from the Arab-Israeli and ultra-Orthodox communities – two sectors from which they hope to recruit additional personnel.
Though the tracers speak numerous languages, “it’s not only about the language, but culture and local slang so that people feel more comfortable to open up to investigators,” Hadar said.
With thousands unemployed, there are also hundreds of volunteers from regional authorities who have joined the effort, as well as security personnel who have been furloughed from Ben-Gurion Airport.
The military says it can effectively deal with 2,000 cases per day with the 1,300 investigators it has. The center aims to reach 4,000 cases per day once it has its target number of 2,000 investigators doing two complete investigations per day.
The unit works with a Last In, First Out (LIFO) approach and prioritizes the most urgent cases in an attempt to cut the chain of infections as quickly as possible.
The investigators work eight hours per day in two shifts, seven days a week because the “virus doesn’t take Shabbat off,” Hadar said. And while many work in large white tents, many work from home – especially those from the Health Ministry.
They interview those who have tested positive for the virus and try to figure out where they might have been infected and who they have been in contact with.
While the military expects those who are contacted to be truthful, many are reported to have lied to investigators, including Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel.
“We expect people to be truthful,” Hadar said. “The population has a responsibility here.”
And while this war might last longer than any war the IDF has ever fought, the military believes it will win.
“The enemy is the unknown,” he said. “And we are clearing away this fog of the unknown.”