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As daily cases pass 21,000, Health Ministry issues new guidelines for home tests

Officials say tests should be taken 3 days after encounter with confirmed person, include throat swab; ministry chief: Even if you only have a runny nose, stay home

An MDA health worker takes an antigen test sample at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )
An MDA health worker takes an antigen test sample at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

Israel hit a new record high of daily coronavirus cases Monday, with 21,501 new cases recorded the previous day.

At the same time, the number of serious cases stood at 222, and the death toll rose by 10 to 8,269.

As the Omicron variant continued to surge, the Health Ministry updated its testing guidelines for antigen kits: The tests should be taken three days after an encounter with a confirmed case, as earlier tests may register false negatives; and a swab should be used first in the throat and then in a nostril (the same swab; and not just in the nostrils as test instructions say). Those steps should provide more accurate results, officials said.

An immunized person receiving a positive home test should proceed to an antigen testing station to double check the result there. If both are positive, the person must enter quarantine.

The ministry added that people who are unvaccinated or have not recovered from COVID-19 must go to an antigen testing station and enter quarantine following exposure to a confirmed coronavirus carrier.

Those considered high-risk or are older than 60 must still undergo a PCR test following exposure to a verified case.

Channel 12 news reported Monday that ministers are considering shortening the required quarantine time for diagnosed persons from 10 days to seven.

On Monday morning the cabinet approved ending requirements for Green Pass certificates in order to enter larger stores in shopping malls, after heavy criticism came from businesses along with questions as to whether the limitation was at all effective in preventing infection. Instead, stores will restrict the number of customers inside at any one time based on floor area.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash urged people who feel ill to remain at home, even if their antigen tests are negative, due to the apparent lower accuracy of the tests and the high morbidity. “Even if it’s just a bit of a runny nose, a bit of a cough and we would normally continue working — stay at home in these cases.”

A COVID-19 rapid antigen home test kit in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ash acknowledged a shortage in antigen tests at pharmacies and said authorities were doing everything to get more supplies in the country as soon as possible.

The total number of active COVID cases stood at 131,968 on Monday morning.

The test positivity rate also continued to climb, hitting 13.3 percent on Monday. Experts believe many cases are now going undetected, as Israel has replaced the standard PCR testing with home antigen tests for vaccinated people under age 60, in order to prioritize PCRs for those at higher risk.

Officials have said that Israel is dealing with both the faster-spreading Omicron and more dangerous Delta strains of the virus, and expressed fears that the health system could get overwhelmed with a rise in flu cases taking up room in hospitals as well.

An MDA health worker takes a test sample at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 09, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

The virus transmission number, R, indicating how many people each infected person passes the virus on to, stood at 1.95, down from 1.97 the day before. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and values above 1 show infections are spreading — the higher the number, the greater the rate.

In the grip of a fifth wave of coronavirus infections, this time fueled by the highly infectious Omicron variant, Israel has seen record daily caseloads over the past few days.

The government has urged the public to get vaccinated and shots are available to all those aged 5 or above.

Of Israel’s 9.5 million population, 6,630,886 have had at least one vaccine dose, Monday’s Health Ministry figures showed. Of those, 5,971,329 have also had a second shot and 4,334,829 had a booster as well.

Last week Israel begin distributing an additional fourth-shot booster to its elderly population and health workers. As of Saturday, 254,000 people had gotten the second booster.

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