Israel sees less need for ventilators, shorter hospitalization times with Omicron

COVID still climbing, with 43,815 new cases detected, but no major rise in serious cases; of 257 serious cases, 64 people are on ventilators and another 12 on ECMO machines

Magen David Adom medics and Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 11, 2022.( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Magen David Adom medics and Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 11, 2022.( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli hospitals are reporting a significant drop in the number of seriously ill patients who need to be ventilated due to infection with the Omicron variant, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

The details, quoting Health Ministry and hospital officials, back up observations in other countries that Omicron has less of an effect on the lungs, compared to previous variants.

Currently, in Israel, out of 257 serious cases, there are 64 people on ventilators and a further 12 on the ECMO machines used for treating some critical coronavirus patients.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines do the work of a person’s heart and lungs in order to allow them to recover from serious respiratory illness. Unlike ventilators that just assist breathing, they provide cardiac and respiratory assistance by oxygenating a patient’s blood outside of the body and are used for only the most critically ill.

Earlier this week, Prof. Zvi Fridlender of Hadassah Medical Center told the Times of Israel that there was a significant change in the behavior of the virus.

“With Delta, I would walk around and see this patient is deteriorating with breathing, this one needs oxygen, and this one will soon need ventilating,” the senior physician said.  “With Omicron, we don’t have the same extent of deterioration happening before our eyes; the impact is less dramatic.” That is the case even among serious patients, Fridlender noted.

Kan also reported that doctors were reporting shorter times in hospital for the seriously ill with Omicron.

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report said that those in a serious condition with Omicron were likely to leave the hospital after 5 five days, compared to an average stay of 10 days with the Delta variant.

Israel continues to see a rapid rise in coronavirus cases. On Tuesday there were 43,868 new patients confirmed, the highest daily number since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed that out of 360,038 virus tests carried out, 12.09 percent returned positive, the highest value since September 29, 2020, when it was 15.29%.

By Wednesday night, the number of seriously ill patients was given as 257, two more than the day before.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose by 27 over the past week to reach 8,290.

The Omicron virus variant has raced across Israel over the past week, leaving the country with 231,494 active patients, 198,099 of whom were diagnosed over the past seven days — a rate three times higher than the previous week. The rampage has left 171,296 Israelis in quarantine due to infection or exposure to an infected person, ministry figures showed.

The Israel Defense Forces has faced its own major outbreak in recent days, with the number of cases increasing five-fold over the past week to 7,395 as of Wednesday. Stricter protective measures were instituted on bases along with a ban on most civilians entering IDF facilities, the military said.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton reiterated Wednesday that she did not want to close the education system, saying there was “comprehensive support from experts” for the idea of keeping schools open.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“More and more people understand that the damage to children from closures is tremendous and these days we are seeing the grave consequences of lockdowns on children,” she said during a Wednesday meeting on the subject, according to unsourced Hebrew media reports.

“Talk of closing the education system is damaging to children and parents. It will not happen,” she vowed.

A Tuesday evening meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, a select panel of ministers who form virus policy, ended without any major decisions.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday that ministers at the meeting had asked why the quarantine period was not being reduced to five days as is the case in the US. Israel on Tuesday shortened quarantine from ten to seven days.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly told ministers that so far the number of active patients was not bringing the country to a standstill but the situation would need to be reassessed.

“If we see in three weeks that a new decision needs to be made as we balance between the disease and the shutdown of essential systems, we will do it,” Kan quoted him as saying.

The virus has struck lawmakers too, with MK Ofir Sofer of the Religious Zionism party announcing Wednesday that he was infected.

MK Ofir Sofer (R) attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Sofer, 11 lawmakers out of 120 MKs now have the coronavirus. On Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev both announced they had tested positive.

The government has made mass vaccination a central strategy in meeting the wave of infections, the fifth the country has experienced during the pandemic.

Of Israel’s population of 9.5 million, 6,651,380 have had at least one vaccine dose, of which 5,990,410 have had both and 4,363,083 the third booster. In addition, 458,282 have had a fourth vaccine shot, recently made available to those over 60 or at risk, according to Health Ministry figures.

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