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School that was shuttered over major virus outbreak holds large graduation event

Dozens of students photographed celebrating at Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia high school, where over 200 students contracted COVID-19 in May

Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More than 100 students violated government guidelines for public gatherings to celebrate their graduation at a Jerusalem high school that had previously been temporarily shut down after becoming the site of one of the largest outbreaks of the virus in Israel.

With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, the government has capped gatherings at 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors.

According to Ynet, students, some of them not wearing masks and many dressed in “prom clothes,” gathered at the Gymnasia Rehavia school on Sunday evening to mark the end of their studies.

“We were divided into groups and we had a graduation party,” one student told the Hebrew-language news site, which also reported that some attendees were not maintaining proper social distancing.

The school was closed down in late May and its entire student body entered quarantine after over 100 people there contracted COVID-19, apparently from a “super-spreader” teacher. Ynet reported that the total number of cases linked to the school outbreak eventually topped out at 220.

While there was hand sanitizer and a thermometer at the entrance to the school, a staffer manning the door did not respond to inquiries from Ynet’s reporter at the scene and warned students to put on masks because they were being photographed.

In a statement, the Gymnasia Rehavia high school told Ynet that the gathering “was neither a prom nor a party — far from it.”

“Groups of students arrived at the school at least 40 minutes apart” to prevent overcrowding and were required to undergo temperature checks and wear masks, the school said.

Students arrive at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After receiving their diplomas, the students “gathered in a wide circle in the open so they could say goodbye properly, and then dispersed,” the statement read. “The students’ parents made an effort to provide a festive and happy atmosphere with some music and a soft drink stand. The teaching staff deal with the enforcement of mask wearing and other restrictions.”

The gathering comes as the cabinet is imposing increasingly stringent restrictions in an effort to control the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with senior government officials on Sunday reportedly weighing imposing weeknight lockdowns in addition to the ones planned for weekends, amid concerns that young Israelis will resort to gathering at public parks and squares as a result of the shuttering of restaurants, bars and cafes.

On Sunday, Israel’s case count passed 50,000, and Monday morning stood at 50,714 Sunday night, with 28,424 of them active, and serious cases at 259.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told cabinet members earlier this month that Israel is “a step away from a full lockdown.”

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