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Hospital reverses course, says COVID-linked death was Delta, not Omicron

After several days of rising infections, new cases tick slightly downward as the number of those getting a first vaccine dose trends upward

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

A medical worker in the coronavirus ward of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A medical worker in the coronavirus ward of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A man who died this week with COVID-19 had the Delta variant of the virus, not Omicron as previously claimed, an Israeli hospital clarified on Wednesday.

The Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba said Wednesday that after final laboratory results came in, a man who died Monday at the hospital was discovered to have the Delta variant of the coronavirus. This comes after the hospital said Tuesday that he had been infected with Omicron, and his death was widely reported as Israel’s first Omicron fatality.

The hospital said the man, in his 60s, suffered “many severe” preexisting medical conditions and died on Monday after a two-week hospitalization.

He was hospitalized two weeks ago for his other conditions, and then tested positive for COVID-19, Soroka said. Soroka’s earlier recording of his death as being from COVID had already raised queries.

The Health Ministry announced Tuesday evening that 170 new Omicron cases had been confirmed in Israel, bringing the total cases of the new variant to 341. The ministry said that another 807 infections were “highly suspected” to be Omicron cases, but were awaiting verification.

Overall coronavirus cases have been ticking up in recent days, though they dipped on Wednesday. Health Ministry statistics released Wednesday morning showed just 903 new cases confirmed on Tuesday, compared to 1,323 a day earlier — a two-month record — and 1,020 on Sunday.

Health care workers test people for COVID-19 in Jerusalem on December 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The positivity rate also dropped, to 1.1 percent on Tuesday compared to 1.28% a day earlier.

Serious cases and hospitalizations, however, have remained steadily low over the past few weeks, and the number of serious COVID-19 patients has remained below 100 for the past two weeks.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 8,637 active COVID-19 cases in Israel, with 123 hospitalized, 80 in serious condition and 38 on ventilators. Four coronavirus patients have died in the past week, according to the Health Ministry.

As the ultra-contagious Omicron variant spreads, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been strongly pushing for parents to vaccinate their children ages 5-11, who became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. So far, just 12.4% of children in that age group have received a first dose of the shot. But on Tuesday, 8,885 Israelis received a first dose, the highest rate in close to three weeks.

A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Katsrin on December 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Overall, almost 70% of all Israelis have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 45% have received three doses.

Health officials recommended on Tuesday night that Israel begin offering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot for over 60s, some at-risk groups and medical personnel.

Bennett told ministers on Tuesday that there was no avoiding a fifth wave of the pandemic.

“We cannot prevent the [next] wave. It’s just not a possibility,” he told members of the coronavirus cabinet. “But we can certainly give the citizens of Israel the tools to protect themselves, mainly from serious illness if some of them become infected.”

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