Back-to-school serology testing of children limited to high-infection zones

Education Ministry cites ‘need to adapt’ after program criticized as COVID ‘breeding ground’; early data shows ultra-Orthodox kids twice as likely to have been infected

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)

The Education Ministry on Tuesday said it would scale back serological tests for COVID-19 antibodies among children ahead of the school year, after the program came under fire.

The ministry’s director-general, Yigal Slovik, said testing will be limited to communities where over 10 percent of the population contracted coronavirus.

“We take care to conduct regular status assessments and see there is a need to adapt the tests to the needs arising on the ground,” Slovik said in a ministry statement.

He also thanked parents who brought their kids to be tested for antibodies, saying it was important in enabling children to have normal routines.

The announcement came after a report said the Health Ministry was considering ending the program altogether and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion called upon the government to end the initiative, claiming its disorderly operation was causing parents “great suffering.”

“[The tests] have become a COVID breeding ground. 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 on Tuesday.

“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)

On Sunday, an online registration system at serological testing centers being operated by the IDF Home Front Command 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, according to Hebrew media reports.

According to an earlier Channel 12 news report, the Health Ministry had been reconsidering the drive, which began just two days ago.

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, the network said. Children with Green Passes showing that they had recovered from the virus were not subject to testing.

The initial 60,000 tests conducted showed that the percentage of children with COVID-19 antibodies in the ultra-Orthodox community was nearly double that of the non-Haredi public.

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)

Among the non-Haredi public, 11.6% of children were found to have antibodies, while in the ultra-Orthodox community that figure was 18.7%. Israel’s Arab community was similarly high at 17.7%, the network reported citing Health Ministry data.

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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