As vaccinations kick in, there is growing speculation that the requirement to quarantine kids who have been exposed to coronavirus carriers could soon be eased or canceled.
Tens of thousands of Israeli children have been quarantined after a classmate or teacher tested positive for the virus, and many Israeli parents live in fear of receiving the dreaded “isolation SMS” from authorities. When a child, or even an entire family, is ordered to stay home for as much as two weeks, their parents’ work and the happiness of the entire household can take a hit.
The Health Ministry told The Times of Israel that it doesn’t currently have plans to change isolation requirements, but among doctors there are growing suggestions that such a move for kids will be the logical next step now that more than 4 million Israeli adults, including the vast majority of the 60-plus age group, have full vaccine immunity.
Dr. Yaakov Barkun, head of the children’s department at Hadassah Medical Center, told The Times of Israel that he expects a change in regulations within two to three months which will mean that kids exposed to a coronavirus carrier are no longer confined to their homes.
“Vaccination means there are fewer cases overall, the population at risk is smaller, and the chance of children being in contact with an at-risk person who isn’t vaccinated will be much lower,” Barkun said.
He noted that there is some danger of serious illness among children, and there are still some concerns about long-term effects of even asymptomatic illness. However, he said that serious illness is very rare and delayed reactions are unusual among kids who were ill early in the pandemic. As such, the main rationale of quarantining children is to stop them from spreading the virus lest they cause it to reach vulnerable adults, which Barkun noted is becoming less of a risk.
Dr. Galia Barkai, head of pediatric infectious diseases at Sheba Medical Center, said she is encouraged by falling infection numbers and commented: “If they carry on dropping, children may not have to quarantine at all.”
But even at current infection levels, she believes that the vaccine has given enough protection to adult Israelis to make it safe to stop the current practice of quarantining entire classes whenever a single child tests positive.
“If someone is positive, you can test the class, and if there aren’t other cases, keep the class open and use rapid testing to check the children every two to three days,” she said.
If tests point to an outbreak, the class should be closed down, but if there is just an isolated case with no signs of spread, as often happens, children could continue their studies, she suggested. Barkai believes that such a procedure could already be used if the infrastructure for fast testing, and getting parental approval for collecting the necessary swabs, were in place. As it isn’t, she expects it to be installed in the coming weeks.
Prof. Galia Grisaru-Soen, director of the pediatric infectious diseases department at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, thinks it would be premature to stop quarantine for kids before children are vaccinated, but said the requirement could well be used more sparingly.
Just as the isolation period has already shrunk from 14 to 10 days with appropriate tests, it should be reduced further, and authorities may start to quarantine only those who were in close proximity to the infected child as opposed to a whole class, she said.
But despite anticipating changes, experts stress that their predictions of easing or ending quarantine could prove moot if a variant arises that causes more serious illness among children, or which defies the vaccine.
Barkai said: “We’re aware that variants can change, and one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is to be cautious about making predictions.”