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Children’s serological testing frozen for a day after chaotic start

IDF Home Front Command says beleaguered campaign will renew Thursday through Tuesday in localities where initial antibody rates have been at least 12%

IDF officers and soldiers conduct serological testing in Katzrin, August 22, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
IDF officers and soldiers conduct serological testing in Katzrin, August 22, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Israel’s campaign to perform mass serological tests to find COVID-19 antibodies in children aged 3-12 was halted for a day on Wednesday, the IDF Home Front Command announced, after the project came under fire in its first few days and was scaled back.

On Sunday, an online registration system at serological testing centers crashed, forcing soldiers to manually write down details of children being tested. The issue slowed testing, causing long lines and delays, and some parents gave up and went home without having their children tested.

With problems persisting, Channel 12 news reported that officials had considered ending the project altogether on Tuesday, just two days after it started.

The widespread tests are meant to identify children who have been previously but unknowingly infected with the virus. Those kids will be exempt from quarantine if they come in contact with a confirmed carrier, allowing more students to stay in class during the upcoming school year.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the Home Front Command — which is in charge of the project — said the tests would stop Wednesday and resume on Thursday until August 31, but only in localities where at least 12 percent of children have thus far been found to have antibodies.

The Walla news site reported that Wednesday’s day off would be used to deepen the analysis of test results of the 262,000 children who have already been tested.

A Magen David Adom paramedic takes blood for serological tests on ultra-Orthodox school kids in Kiryat Yearim on August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report cited Home Front Command officials acknowledging that the rate of kids with antibodies has been significantly lower than expected, casting doubt over the effectiveness of the entire campaign.

Walla also reported that Target, the communications company assisting the project, will be replaced after the system crashed earlier this week due to high demand, an issue compounded by a communications malfunction in a system belonging to telecom company Cellcom.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion on Tuesday called upon the government to end the initiative, claiming its disorderly operation was causing parents “great suffering.”

Tests “have become a COVID breeding ground,” he said, citing crowding at testing locations. “I highly doubt their effectiveness, but one thing is clear — the parents go through a lot of suffering,” Lion said at an education conference for mayors.

“It is possible to stop and do the tests in an orderly fashion within the schools,” he suggested.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Initial data after two days of serological testing for children showed that 13% of those under the age of 12 were positive for COVID-19 antibodies, indicating that they had been infected with the virus at one point without knowing it, Channel 12 reported. Children with Green Passes showing that they have recovered from the virus are not eligible for serological testing.

The initial 60,000 tests conducted showed that the percentage of children with COVID-19 antibodies in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities was significantly higher than that in the rest of the population.

Among the non-Haredi and non-Arab public, 11.6% of children were found to have antibodies, while in the ultra-Orthodox community that figure was 18.7% and in the Arab community it was similarly high at 17.7%, the network reported, citing Health Ministry data that was not released publicly.

The locales topping the chart based on the initial data were Kiryat Malachi with 25% of children identified with antibodies, 24% in Yesodot, 20% in Ashdod, 19.5% in Kfar Chabad, and 17.5% in Modiin Illit.

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