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2nd staff member at Rehovot school diagnosed with virus; 35 kids quarantined

Source at municipality reportedly says there was no contact between teacher and infected counselor; school had already shut its doors until May 27

Illustrative: Students and teacher at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students and teacher at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A teacher at the Navon school in the central city of Rehovot has been diagnosed with coronavirus, officials said Monday, sending 35 children into isolation.

On Friday, officials said that a counselor at the school was found to be infected and had been in contact with 52 students and staff members. All were sent into isolation. The school will be shut until May 27, the school’s principal informed parents.

According to the Haaretz daily, an initial investigation found no evidence that the two staff members had been in contact with one another, despite reports last week that the counselor had encountered all staff members.

An unnamed source at the municipality called for an urgent probe to find out where and how the virus had been contracted by the teacher.

“The epidemiological investigation needs to be done as quickly as possible,” the source said. “The second teacher did not come in contact with the counselor, so who did she contract it from? We have asked the Health Ministry to investigate it and the mayor asked for testing for the staff and students because some people are asymptomatic.”

Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also Friday, officials said that an assistant at the Galil elementary school in Tel Aviv had come down with the virus. Seven children and a teacher she had been in contact with were sent to quarantine.

Israel ramped up the reopening of its education system Sunday morning with private daycares, kindergartens, and grades 1-3 and 11-12 resuming full-time classroom activities in most municipalities and grades 4-10 set to return to lessons by Tuesday, except in areas that have been centers of outbreaks.

The reopening comes after over two months in which Israeli children spent most of their time at home in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. Grades 1-3 and 11-12 had previously resumed partial studies.

After-school programs, which stretch the school day to approximately 4:30-5 p.m. were also returning across the country.

The former virus hotspots where schools are not resuming for the time being are Bnei Brak, Deir al-Asad, Hura and Bi’ina, as well as several predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Netivot.

Children and teachers at the Gan Nayot kindergarten in Jerusalem on May 10, 2020, for the first time in over 2 months. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

According to the plan approved last week by the government, schools will enforce hygiene rules such as washing hands, and every pupil will have to present a document saying they are healthy upon arrival at school.

All pupils will be required to wear face masks during recess in open areas, and those in grades 4-12 will also wear them in class. Classroom windows will remain open at all times.

Pupils will also have to keep a two-meter distance from one another during lunch breaks, with schools and kindergartens required to hold most of their activities in places that allow for the mandatory distance to be maintained.

Students will go for breaks between classes in smaller groups, not all at the same time.

The Education Ministry on Sunday asked the Health Ministry to reconsider the mandatory wearing of face masks for grades 4-10 during classes, after some officials voiced skepticism that the guidelines could be adhered to, particularly as Israel experiences a heatwave this week.

Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The school year will run through July 13. It is not yet clear what the summer programs may look like.

The government said that any educational framework in which illness is discovered will be shut immediately.

The return to school is yet another step toward the full reopening of the economy as parents can return to work full-time. Last month, the Bank of Israel said that the shutdown of the education system, which went into effect mid-March, was costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion per week.

Amid the sustained drop in infections, the government has increasingly rolled back restrictions meant to curb the outbreak. More such measures are reportedly in the works.

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