Preschools, daycare staff undergo coronavirus testing ahead of Sunday reopening

Sites set up across country for teachers and assistants in effort to prevent fresh virus outbreaks, as national lockdown begins to ease

Clalit Health Services workers take swab samples for preschool and daycare staff members at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in the central city of Lod, October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Clalit Health Services workers take swab samples for preschool and daycare staff members at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in the central city of Lod, October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Further widespread coronavirus testing was performed on Saturday for staff at preschools and daycares, in a bid to prevent any fresh outbreaks when they reopen on Sunday after a weeks-long national lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Testing sites operated by the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the military’s Home Front Command and health maintenance organizations (HMO) were set up at dozens of sites across the country for the second consecutive day. Thousands of staff members were estimated to have been tested, according to Channel 12 news.

“We’re working 24/7, also on Shabbat,” Dvora Hassid, an official at Maccabi Healthcare Services, told the network. “Yesterday about a thousand preschool teachers and assistants came to our sites. We prepared so that everyone tested yesterday has already received a result. The labs are ready.”

Staff could be tested at the MDA and Home Front Command sites without an appointment beforehand, unlike with HMOs.

Cars line up at a Clalit Health Services drive-through coronavirus testing site in Lod, October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

On Thursday, ministers approved the lifting of some restrictions starting Sunday, after a marked drop in infection rates following the lockdown measures that took effect on September 18.

Despite the planned opening of daycares and preschools, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed concern about a potential outbreak there.

“We are very worried about a possible rise of infections in preschools,” he said.

Illustrative: Children return to preschool in Tel Aviv after a lockdown of over two months, on May 10, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ministers later agreed to allow daycares, preschools and kindergartens to reopen in virus hotspots — all of which are ultra-Orthodox-majority areas — after officials reportedly warned that failure to do so could cause a “civil revolt.”

Besides allowing preschools and daycares to reopen, the so-called coronavirus cabinet agreed to lift the limit on Israelis traveling more than one kilometer from home unless for specific permitted purposes; allow them to visit others’ homes so long as caps on gatherings are adhered to (10 indoors, 20 outdoors); allow restaurants to serve takeout; permit businesses that don’t receive customers to open; allow Israelis to visit beaches and national parks; and reopen the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount compound for worship under certain restrictions.

People shop at the open-air market in the central city of Ramle on October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In light of the easing of restrictions, the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in the south operated a mobile testing facility to allow all residents to be checked without a referral.

Ofer Libstein, the head of the regional council, said the aim of the testing program was to keep the area “green,” a designation used for localities that have the lowest rates of contagion.

“We’re working hard it to keep [Sha’ar Hanegev] green even after the lifting of the lockdown,” he was quoted saying by Channel 12.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, over 300,000 virus cases have been diagnosed since the start of the pandemic, 37,249 of which are active. The ministry said 714 people are in serious condition, 244 of whom are on ventilators. Another 219 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. Overall, 1,227 are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem on October 11, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The death toll climbed to 2,141 on Friday evening, with seven more deaths recorded since midnight Thursday.

On Thursday, 1,613 new cases were diagnosed, while the percentage of tests returning positive dipped to 4.5 percent, the lowest rate since mid-July.

The latest figures matched the government’s goal of reaching under 2,000 daily cases, after which it would be willing to ease some lockdown restrictions on Sunday.

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