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Officials say two-thirds of students are not submitting home COVID test results

Health Ministry official calls statistic ‘disturbing,’ but Education Ministry official claims plan is working

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

An illustration of a COVID-19 rapid antigen home test kit in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
An illustration of a COVID-19 rapid antigen home test kit in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

During a Knesset hearing on Monday, a senior Health Ministry official expressed dismay that just 30 percent of parents are cooperating with an Education Ministry plan to submit schoolchildren to regular COVID tests after exempting them from quarantine following exposure.

At a Knesset Health Committee hearing, Education Ministry director-general Dalit Stauber said that since the implementation of the plan — which went into effect on January 27 — just 600,000 children have been tested and had their results loaded into a portal by their parents.

Among those who tested and reported their results, said Stauber, around 60,000 were found to be positive.

Health Ministry director of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said she found the statistics “disturbing.”

“The government of Israel made a decision that a child who was near a positive case and did not get tested should be in quarantine,” said Alroy-Preis. “But we have no way to do this, because there is no real tracking.”

Alroy-Preis said that “not only are only one-third of children getting tested, we also don’t know who is sick. The Education Ministry is not reporting it and the Health Ministry can’t enforce quarantine among those who aren’t tested.”

Health Ministry director of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis speaks at a Knesset Health Committee hearing in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Under the plan, all students, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, need to take two home antigen tests a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and report their results to an Education Ministry portal.

Children who test positive for COVID-19 at home need to take an antigen test at an official facility and isolate for five days if that too shows a positive result. The terms of the plan exempt even unvaccinated students from being forced to quarantine after being exposed to a positive COVID case in class — as long as they administer home tests.

But Alroy-Preis implied that even many of those students whose parents reported positive results of home tests to the Education Ministry were not necessarily following up with official tests.

Still, Stauber defended the plan, saying that it was leading to fewer in-class cases and less COVID spread.

“Without these tests, these students would be continuing to go to class without anyone knowing they had been infected,” said Stauber, calling the plan an “extra protective layer.”

Alroy-Preis claimed that the Health Ministry had asked the Education Ministry for information about students who had tested positive, while Stauber claimed that it received such information from the Health Ministry, “not the opposite.”

Education Ministry director-general Dalit Stauber at a Knesset Health Committee hearing in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

According to the latest Health Ministry statistics, as of Monday morning, there were close to 122,000 school-age children positive for COVID, and a further 12,772 in isolation following exposure.

While children ages 0-18 represented just 40% of all state-run COVID tests carried out on Sunday, they made up more than 51% of the positive results. None of those figures included home testing.

Overall on Sunday, 52,600 people tested positive for COVID, with 323,911 current active cases in the country. Among those, 2,812 were hospital patients, with 1,235 of them in serious condition and 293 of those on ventilators.

More than 1 million Israelis have been tested in the past week, and the positivity rate on Sunday stood at 28.16%, while the R number continued to drop, hitting 0.84.

In just the past week, 284 people with COVID have died, with an average daily death toll of 40, dropping from a peak average of 51 several days ago, the highest in more than a year. The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 9,180.

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