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Tech issues cause chaos at serological, rapid COVID testing facilities

Long lines and delays mar first day of national serological testing program for children ages 3-12 to prepare for the upcoming school year

Israeli children undergo COVID-19 antibody testing in the coastal city of Netanya on August 22, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Israeli children undergo COVID-19 antibody testing in the coastal city of Netanya on August 22, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Long lines and delays at stations offering serological checks for coronavirus antibodies and rapid COVID tests for antigens were blamed on a technical issues Sunday, as the first day of nationwide serological testing for children got off to a problem-plagued start.

The kinks will need to be worked out before the school year begins in just over a week, with officials banking plans for keeping schools and students out of quarantine on a speedy and effective national antibody testing program alongside accessible rapid COVID tests.

At serological testing centers being operated by the IDF Home Front Command, an online registration system for the tests crashed, forcing soldiers to write down details of children being tested, the Ynet news site reported.

The issue slowed testing, causing long lines and delays. Some parents gave up and went home without having their children tested, according to Hebrew media reports.

“There are a ton of parents here and only a few managed to get the test done,” one woman at a serological testing site told Ynet. “It’s very crowded here and not everyone is wearing masks.”

Sunday marked the first day of nationwide serological tests for those ages 3-12, which are being operated by the IDF Home Front Command at more than 400 locations across the country. Under the government’s back-to-school plan, more than a million students will undergo serological testing to determine if they had been infected and recovered from COVID in the past without detection. If the students are found to have antibodies, they will be granted a “Green Pass” and will be exempt from quarantine if someone in their class tests positive.

A Magen David Adom worker takes blood for a serological test for COVID-19 from a child in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Ye’arim (Telz-Stone), outside Jerusalem, on August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said that its manpower will “be reinforced and diverted as necessary” to meet demand, and that the IDF is in “constant communication with authorities.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has authorized calling up 6,000 reservists to man the testing stations, which will remain open until at least September 2.

Meanwhile, long lines and confusion were being caused by delays at rapid coronavirus testing stations operated by Magen David Adom.

MDA said the delays were being caused by “a problem with the communications system of the Cellcom company, which is facilitating the rapid COVID testing system.” MDA said it was working to bring in additional staff in order to alleviate the overcrowding and long delays.

Beginning last week, all children ages 3-12 must show a negative COVID test in order to enter most public attractions, leading to the setting up of dozens of rapid testing sites nationwide. Many parents have complained of long lines, overcrowding and extended waits before they receiving test results at the sites.

It was not immediately clear if the tech failures at the rapid testing sites and the serological testing sites were linked.

According to Channel 12 news, some of the delays at the serological testing sites were also caused by the difficulty in getting young children to submit to the blood test — conducted by a prick to the finger — without crying or refusing.

Preparations for the new school year at the Gamla elementary school in Katzrin, northern Israel, August 22, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The school year is expected to open nationwide on September 1. Ministers will meet later Sunday evening to decide on the full plan to reopen schools, and will discuss the possibility of delaying the school year by a month.

As of Sunday morning, there are 67,510 active COVID cases in the country, with 1,148 people hospitalized, 680 patients in serious condition and 107 on ventilators. Close to 41% of children ages 12-15 have already received one COVID vaccination dose, as have 79% of those ages 16-19.

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