Health Ministry chief: Virus testing won’t be reduced, but some may get priority
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Health Ministry chief: Virus testing won’t be reduced, but some may get priority

With system overwhelmed, Chezy Levy says tests for at-risk patients and their carers may be processed before others

Health care workers take test samples of Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, at a Clalilt health center in Lod, on July 05, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)
Health care workers take test samples of Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, at a Clalilt health center in Lod, on July 05, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

As laboratories struggle under the caseload of increased coronavirus testing, the head of the Health Ministry on Monday said results of some tests could be prioritized over others.

“There is not an intention to reduce the number of tests in any way, but instead we are considering whether to test not in order of arrival but in order of importance, such as at-risk patients, or the elderly, or their carers,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told Army Radio. “They could get a faster result.”

Army Radio reported that pregnant women could also be prioritized.

“We are carrying out 27,000 tests [per day] and we plan to go up to even more. We do not intend in any way to reduce the number of tests, but we will prioritize in order to reach the people who need to be tested faster,” Levy said.

Health Ministry director general Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020 (Flash90)

As the coronavirus outbreak has spiked in Israel, testing has increased, with levels reaching a record 28,963 tests carried out last Thursday — still short of the target for 30,000 tests daily set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March.

But laboratories have struggled under the caseload.

The Ynet news site reported last week that senior officials from Israel’s health maintenance organizations met with Levy and told him that they lacked the manpower to conduct tests at government-set target rates after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein widened the criteria.

Last month Edelstein announced that testing was expanded to people with no symptoms, after medical services had resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected patients who weren’t feeling unwell.

Most carriers of COVID-19 have only mild symptoms or none at all, and experts fear that asymptomatic patients can transfer the contagion to others, making massive testing a critical element in getting a grip on the true spread of the virus — especially when lockdown measures are rolled back.

Medical team member at the Barzilay hospital in Ashkelon handles a Coronavirus test sample on March 29, 2020 (Flash90)

Currently, even those who test negative must remain in 14-day quarantine if they were exposed to a virus patient or displayed symptoms of COVID-19.

According to present guidelines, patients suffering from a list of symptoms including high fever, cough or difficulty breathing are eligible for a test, as well as anyone who has been in contact with a diagnosed carrier or at an educational institution with an outbreak.

Testing is not the only area in which the Health Ministry believes certain cases can be prioritized. Last week the ministry announced significant changes to its quarantine and contact tracing policies, which are expected to greatly reduce the number of people required to self-isolate at any given time.

Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, the outgoing head of public health services in the Health Ministry, who announced her resignation last week, said the new regulations, which have been employed in other countries, would allow health officials to focus on higher-risk individuals while limiting the number of people sent into quarantine.

The latest Health Ministry figures Sunday evening had Israel’s coronavirus death toll at 362, with eight deaths in the past 24 hours and 1,206 new virus cases, bringing Israel’s total to 38,670.

As of 1 p.m. Monday no updated figures had been released.

A medical team at the coronavirus unit, in the Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Amid the rising number of cases, a team of experts from the Hebrew University on Sunday morning presented the government with a grim prediction that a hundred more Israelis will die of the coronavirus by the end of July.

They therefore recommended the reimposition of strict restrictions starting next week, including a nationwide lockdown, if the rate of new infections does not slow down by then.

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