18 students, staff members at shuttered Jerusalem school diagnosed with virus

Cases mount in reopened education system despite downward national trend; children at school, kindergarten in Or Yehuda sent into isolation after siblings test positive

The Hebrew Gymnasium high school in Jerusalem, August 3, 2007. (CC BY-SA Neta/Wikipedia)
The Hebrew Gymnasium high school in Jerusalem, August 3, 2007. (CC BY-SA Neta/Wikipedia)

Eighteen students and staff members at a Jerusalem high school have now tested positive for the coronavirus when intensive testing was carried out Thursday after three students were initially found to be infected.

A statement from the Hebrew Gymnasium in the Rehavia neighborhood said that 11 staff members and seven students in total have been diagnosed with the coronavirus after 678 children and workers were tested.

The school said that by Sunday, all 1,400 students and staff members will have been tested.

The outbreak was initially traced when a ninth-grade student at the school was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday, upon which 210 fellow pupils and teachers were sent to quarantine for 14 days. Subsequently, two seventh-grade students and then three teachers were also diagnosed.

The school will remain closed for at least a week and go back to online studies.

“By the middle of next week we will have a full picture of the situation and we can start thinking about the exit strategy from this crisis,” the school said Thursday in a message to parents.

A Magen David Adom worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Despite the uptick in cases, the government said Thursday that higher education institutions and youth groups would be allowed to operate from Sunday, under Health Ministry restrictions.

The Jerusalem high school was not the only school affected by an outbreak on Thursday — two sisters from the central Israel city of Bat Yam were diagnosed with coronavirus, having contracted it from their mother, Channel 12 reported.

One of them is a tenth-grade student at the city’s Shazar high school, with 28 of her classmates and 10 staff members now entering isolation. The other attends a kindergarten, whose 35 kids and four staff members have all been quarantined.

The municipality of Or Yehuda said that a mother and two children were also diagnosed with the virus, sending children at the city’s Ehud Manor School and a municipal kindergarten into isolation.

On Wednesday, two students at Tzafit high school in Beit Berl tested positive for the virus. The school remained open, but 62 students and staff members were sent to isolation.

According to the latest update by the Health Ministry on Thursday morning, there were 1,890 active cases of coronavirus in the country, continuing a downward trend now threatened by the renewed outbreaks in schools.

The total cumulative number of cases was 16,809.

Forty-one patients were in serious condition, 38 of whom were on ventilators. Another 34 carriers were in moderate condition and the rest were displaying mild symptoms, the Health Ministry said.

No additional deaths were reported, with the death count holding at 281 since Monday.

Israelis sit bars and restaurants in Jerusalem, on May 27. 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The newly instituted coronavirus cabinet tasked with facilitating the government’s response to the virus is concerned that while the number of active cases continues to drop, fewer people are coming in to be tested, according to Channel 13, which also said the ministers had expressed concern that even fewer Israelis will seek to get tested during the Shavuot holiday on Friday.

Recent weeks have seen a sharp drop-off in the number of new virus cases, with the country lifting restrictions on movement, businesses and educational institutions.

Restaurants, pubs, hotels, pools and other establishments began opening up and hosting patrons Wednesday, hours after authorities gave the go-ahead to ease pandemic restrictions and allow some of the last businesses remaining shut to reopen.

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