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Hospitals told to prepare to reopen specialized COVID-19 wards as cases mount

Health Ministry tells medical centers to prepare for ‘extreme scenario’ with hospitalizations on the rise, a month after most hospitals closed their coronavirus divisions

Medical staff working at the new COVID-19 unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Medical staff working at the new COVID-19 unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday instructed hospitals around the country to prepare to reopen their coronavirus wards as the number of new COVID-19 cases continued to climb by nearly 300 a day.

Several hospitals shuttered their coronavirus wards last month as the number of new cases dropped to several dozen a day, but daily infection numbers have since rebounded.

The head of the ministry’s General Medicine Division told hospital administrators in a letter that the directive comes against the backdrop of a rise not just in total cases but also in the number of hospitalized patients, of those in serious condition, and of hospital staff forced into quarantine.

“The guideline is to prepare for the immediate opening of a single ward dedicated to [treating] the coronavirus,” wrote Dr. Sigal Liberant-Taub.

The Health Ministry said Sunday morning that there were 20,686 total cases since the start of the pandemic, including 4,716 active cases, which is some 2,000 more active cases than just a couple of weeks ago. Over 200 people were hospitalized, including 43 patients in serious condition and 28 people on ventilators.

Medical workers treat a patient at the coronavirus ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

According to official figures, 905 medical workers are in quarantine, including 168 doctors and 306 nurses.

Liberant-Taub told the administrators that they should be prepared for an “extreme scenario,” urging them to “refresh” their medical staffs on the importance of personal protective equipment, of working in small teams and of separating the respiratory wards that are more likely to receive coronavirus patients from other departments, in an effort to limit exposure to the virus.

Beds at a coronavirus critical care unit at Sheba Medical Center (Courtesy)

Top officials are set to meet Sunday to discuss new measures intended to keep a lid on the new outbreak, though authorities are reportedly concentrating on increased enforcement of rules requiring masks in public, including upped fines, rather than new restrictions on movement or shutting down the economy.

Currently, authorities can hit people with a NIS 200 ($58) fine for not donning a mask in public areas.

On Saturday, the IDF’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center warned that Israel has entered a second wave of infections and said if it did not take immediate steps to bring numbers down, it could face a thousand new cases a day and hundreds of new deaths in a month’s time. However, some government officials distanced themselves from the report, claiming it was predicated on faulty statistics.

Despite the rise in cases, the cabinet on Friday gave the go-ahead to hold cultural events of up to 250 people with certain limitations. The green light applied to cinemas and theaters, and took immediate effect. In certain situations, with prior approval, events of up to 500 people will also be authorized, the cabinet decided.

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