COVID-19 infections continue to drop, but daily deaths still high

As Israel gears up to reopen elementary schools in next phase of easing lockdown, Health Ministry reports 844 cases throughout Tuesday, 43 fatalities in 24 hours

People on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s rate of positive coronavirus tests is at its lowest in more than four months, according to data released Tuesday and Wednesday by the Health Ministry, although the COVID-19 daily death toll was still very high.

The ministry said Wednesday morning that 844 new infections were detected after 38,840 tests were performed, a positive rate of 2.2 percent, the same as the previous day. The last time that figure was so low was on June 21. It had reached 15% a month ago.

The general decline in testing rates over the past several weeks, however, has led to expressions of concern from health officials.

The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic rose to 312,024 Wednesday morning, including 12,768 active cases.

Of them, 453 are in serious condition, including 196 on ventilators. Another 106 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms, the ministry said.

Active cases and serious patients are two more figures that have been sharply declining over the previous weeks, sparking hopes that Israel could gain control of the outbreak after a month-long lockdown.

Magen David Adom emergency service workers outside the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem, October 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, which has consistently seen the highest number of infections, announced on Tuesday that two departments set up to treat coronavirus patients were to close after over half a year.

However, deaths from the disease are on the rise. The ministry said Tuesday night that 43 patients had died over the previous 24 hours, one short of Israel’s deadliest day so far, recorded earlier this month, when 44 people died.

The total death toll stands at 2,483.

The developments come a week after a second national lockdown was eased. Ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet on Monday night approved the further reopening of schools for children in grades 1-4 early next week, as well the easing of some more restrictions on businesses, as part of a multi-phase reopening plan.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces — which is helping in the national fight against the pandemic — announced that the Home Front Command, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and the country’s health maintenance organizations had begun mass testing among education workers ahead of the reopening of the elementary schools.

The IDF said in a statement that the testing of teachers, assistants and other employees would be completed by Saturday.

First grade students arrive for their first day of school at Tali Geulim school in Jerusalem on September 1, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Under the plan given the final okay by ministers, children in third and fourth grade will be divided into pods and resume studies five days a week, while those in first and second grade will be split into two groups that will alternate days and go to school only three times a week. Children in fifth grade and above will continue remote learning.

Preschools have already been previously reopened. However, over 100 kindergartens have been shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks, including more than 50 that have been shuttered just since Sunday, according to an Education Ministry report Tuesday.

Although relatively minor compared to the 21,000 preschools, kindergartens and daycares nationwide, the rapidly multiplying shutdowns offer a preview as Israel gears up to open elementary schools Sunday amid the falling infection rates.

There are currently 1,716 students who are infected with the virus, a drop of 475 since Sunday, the ministry said, according to Hebrew-language media reports. However, the number of kindergartens closed due to infections among staff or children doubled during the same period from 56 to 112.

Following the initial coronavirus lockdown in the spring, health officials had abandoned their staged plan amid pressure from ministers and opened nearly all schools and businesses at once in early May. That move has been blamed for playing a part in runaway infection rates over the summer that led to the second national lockdown.

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