Preliminary results of serological testing conducted in Haredi localities show more than a fifth of children have already had the coronavirus — much higher than previously known.
According to initial results of the testing carried out on Monday on more than 1,000 children in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities of Elad, Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and parts of Beit Shemesh, 21% of those aged 3-12 were found to have COVID antibodies in their blood, Channel 12 news reported. Only Israelis over age 12 are currently eligible to receive the COVID vaccine.
The testing is being carried out to mark the beginning of the school year in those cities, under a program designed to reduce the need for quarantine among students and allow them to remain in in-person instruction. Those who are found to have COVID antibodies will be exempt from quarantine if a classmate tests positive for the coronavirus.
The serological testing is being rolled out first in the Haredi community, which reopened its schools on Monday. It is slated to be expanded to the general population ahead of the national school year opening scheduled for September 1.
According to the Ynet news site, in Elad, 24.2% of those tested were found to have antibodies; 17% were positive in Modiin Illit and 11% in Kiryat Yearim, also known as Telz Stone.
According to Health Ministry statistics, close to 10% of all Israelis have tested positive for COVID-19 so far since the beginning of the outbreak.
About 140,000 of those more than 900,000 total confirmed cases were among children under age 10, though there are more than 1.7 million children aged 0-9 in Israel.
“At the moment there is very high responsiveness” to the testing, Dr. Itai Pessach, director of the children’s hospital at the Sheba Medical Center, told Ynet at a test site in Elad on Monday.
“The parents understand that a Green Pass allows their children to have regular classes, without quarantine, and that’s why the demand is very, very high,” he said.
The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel was hit disproportionately hard throughout much of the pandemic, with critics charging that outbreaks were often driven by a lack of adherence to coronavirus regulations in some Haredi communities.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved a plan prepared by the education, health and defense ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office for reopening the next school year.
Under the plan, all 1.6 million kids in kindergarten and grades 1-6 will undergo a serology test to check if they have COVID-19 antibodies. Those who are found to have recovered from the disease will receive a Green Pass that exempts them from quarantine if they are exposed to confirmed carriers.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, that student will enter quarantine, and their entire class will be required to get tested for the virus. Those who test positive will also enter quarantine, and those who test negative can stay in class as long as they get tested every single day for seven days. Those who refuse to be tested daily will have to enter quarantine as is currently required.
Students in schools in cities and towns that are considered “orange” or “red” under the traffic light system will all be tested once a week as standard.