The number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped Monday evening to 17,169, the Health Ministry said, representing 98 new cases over the previous 24 hours and continuing an upward trend in infections that began last week and is centered mostly in schools.
The tally came after several days of rising numbers. The number of active cases was up to 2,006, after dropping below 2,000 last week.
No new deaths were recorded, with the tally staying at 285, and the number of people on ventilators dropped to 29. The number of serious cases was down to 31, in addition to 41 patients in moderate condition.
Daily COVID-19 testing numbers were only slightly up according to an initial tally, which showed that the infection rate was down slightly to 1.2 percent of the approximately 5,600 tested cases.
The renewed outbreak, which began last week, is focused in education institutions, particularly the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem, where over 130 students and staff members have been diagnosed.
On Friday, a “significant” jump of 115 new coronavirus infections over 24 hours was reported, the first time that the 100 mark was breached since May 2. Saturday saw another jump, in what health officials attributed to public complacency and failure to heed social distancing rules.
As of Monday evening, 206 students and school staff members were confirmed to have contracted the virus in the past week, 70 percent of whom are from Gymnasia Rehavia, the Walla website reported.
That has resulted in 18 education institutions closing and more than 6,000 people being sent to a 14-day quarantine.
A growing number of parents have been avoiding sending their kids to school as a result of the wave of infections. Some schools have independently implemented the scrapped system where students learn in separate, smaller groups which stay away from each other to limit any potential wave of infections, Hebrew media reports said.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday that any institute where a COVID-19 case is confirmed will be closed immediately. Continuing partial studies will be considered where there are separate buildings in the same institute.
Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association, told 103FM Radio he has demanded that the government move to halt physical studies at school and resume online courses.
Thousands of students were sent into isolation on Monday, after more staff members and students at schools in various cities were diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Hebrew media reported that a student at the Multidisciplinary high school in Hadera was diagnosed with the virus, sending 2,180 students and teachers into isolation. After consultations between the municipality, the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry and teaching staff, it was decided that the school should be temporarily closed down.
In addition, a student at the Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem tested positive for the virus, the Haaretz daily reported. The school had already announced on Saturday that it would not open until Tuesday at the earliest, due to concerns that a large number of students have siblings who attend Gymnasia Rehavia.
A dance teacher in the capital was also diagnosed, sending dozens of students into isolation.
Hundreds of staff and students in the southern city of Beersheba were also sent into isolation over suspicions of infections in a number of schools.
The mayor of Ashdod ordered the closure of the Beis Yaakov school in the city after a teacher was diagnosed with the virus. All 256 students and 22 staff members were sent into isolation.
According to a tally by Channel 12 news, students and children at 32 daycare facilities and schools around the country have now tested positive for the virus since they reopened.
The Haaretz daily reported Monday that health officials have recommended that any school with three or more students diagnosed with the virus should be immediately shut down, even if all the children are in the same class.
Outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said Sunday a sharp rise in virus cases may represent a broader trend and not be connected specifically to schools.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Sunday announced plans to expand virus testing to those not showing symptoms and sternly warned Israelis against relaxing social distancing and hygiene habits.
Medical services have thus far largely limited testing to those displaying symptoms of the virus and have resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected asymptomatic carriers.
As he unveiled the looser criteria for testing, Edelstein stressed that even those who test negative must remain in 14-day quarantine if exposed to a virus patient or displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
On Monday, Channel 12 said Edelstein had barred all the senior officials in the Health Ministry from giving media interviews, since some of them oppose Edelstein’s move to allow testing of the asymptomatic. He wants to prevent contradictory statements being made by different ministry officials, the report said.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to roll back its virus restrictions, reopening schools, synagogues, malls, restaurants and other spaces. While social distancing and hygiene guidelines remain in place, many have taken a more relaxed attitude, as the virus appeared to wane, including toward instructions to wear masks in most settings outside the home.