Rate of positive COVID tests drops to lowest level since mid-August

6,456 new coronavirus cases diagnosed Sunday; 70% of serious cases are among the unvaccinated; most new infections among school-age children and in Arab community

Healthcare workers take COVID-19 test samples of Israelis at a Maccabi healthcare test center in Modiin, on September 13 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Healthcare workers take COVID-19 test samples of Israelis at a Maccabi healthcare test center in Modiin, on September 13 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Just over 5 percent of COVID-19 tests returned positive on Sunday, according to Health Ministry figures, marking the lowest testing positivity rate since mid-August.

The figures indicated a possible waning of the current outbreak, despite the reopening of the school system earlier this month and the ongoing Jewish holidays, when millions of Israelis gather in synagogues and visit their families and friends.

According to the Health Ministry, over 126,000 tests were conducted on Sunday, with 6,456 new coronavirus cases diagnosed. There were 714 people classified as in serious condition — up from 650 on Thursday — including 194 on ventilators.

Nearly 70% of the serious cases were among unvaccinated, according to the data.

A Health Ministry report cited by the Ynet news site said that 40% of the new cases diagnosed on Sunday were among Arab Israelis, who make up 20% of the population and whose vaccination rates are lower than the national average. Infections were also high among students, with over 3,766 cases — over half of Sunday’s total — reported among school-age children.

As of Monday, over 6 million Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, and over 3 million — one-third of the total population — have received the third booster shot.

An Israeli woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit Health Services clinic in Jerusalem, on September 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hospital chiefs warned on Sunday that they are facing a shortage of ECMO machines for treating some critical coronavirus patients, and that the Israeli healthcare system could be “on the way to total failure” if more funds are not allocated immediately.

According to Hebrew media reports, the heads of Israel’s major hospitals made the comments in a meeting with top Health Ministry officials to assess the pressures that they are facing as a result of the ongoing fourth coronavirus wave.

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.

Shaare Zedek team members wear safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of the hospital in Jerusalem, on August 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking to Channel 12 news Sunday night, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that there were currently 37 patients on ECMO machines nationwide, the highest number seen during the current wave, but still way off from numbers seen earlier this year.

Horowitz additionally said that of those 37 patients, 31 of them were unvaccinated and most were under the age of 60. He said that the high percentage of unvaccinated patients on ventilators or ECMO machines was a clear sign of the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Hospitals, however, reported a total of 51 patients currently on ECMO machines, Channel 12 noted.

The hospital chiefs also said that they lack enough ICU beds, Channel 12 reported.

“There’s a problem of manpower,” Nachman Ash, the ministry’s director, was quoted as saying by Army Radio.

Over the weekend, Israel surpassed more than 7,500 deaths from COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. According to the latest figures, 7,541 Israelis with COVID have died since March 2020, and more than 1,000 have died in the past six weeks alone.

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