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Testing, testing and more testing: Israel lays out plan for reopening schools

Under framework, students with a classmate who tests positive will be allowed to stay in school as long as they test negative every day for a week

Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive through complex in Rehovot to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive through complex in Rehovot to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday gave his approval to a plan prepared by the education, health and defense ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office for reopening the next school year in the shadow of the latest coronavirus outbreak.

The main points of the plan are as follows:

  • All 1.6 million kids in kindergarten and grades 1-6 will undergo a serology test to check if they have COVID-19 antibodies. The testing will begin in the Haredi sector, where schools will be reopening on Monday, and then roll out to the rest of the population. The Education Ministry estimates that 20-30 percent of students will be found to have recovered from the disease, and therefore will receive a Green Pass that exempts them from quarantine if they are exposed to confirmed carriers.
  • The families of 1.9 million children in kindergartens and in grades 1-9 will receive a rapid COVID-19 home test kit within 48 hours of the school year starting, and will be asked to test their children prior to their coming to class.
  • If a student tests positive for COVID-19, that student will enter quarantine, and their entire class will be required to get tested. 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.
A Magen David Adom health worker demonstrates a COVID-19 rapid test on August 8, 2021 at the Magen David Adom headquarters in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kan news reported on Sunday evening that Bennett has presented the cabinet with a document stating that if the current steps to contain the coronavirus outbreak won’t help, Israel could be heading to a lockdown during the High Holidays next month.

According to the document, “more severe restrictions, including a lockdown” could be imposed beginning with Rosh Hashanah, which starts on September 6. Multiple cabinet ministers have publicly voiced objection to any lockdown plan.

A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection at Amal High School in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, on March 17, 2021. (Flash90)

Meanwhile, Israel Teachers’ Union chief Yaffa Ben-David, who had threatened a strike last week if the school plan was approved, walked back her threat in an interview with Channel 13 on Sunday.

“We won’t call a strike in the education system — we’re just asking for a framework that is clear for both parents and educational staff,” Ben-David said. “In order to make this work we need personnel, and we don’t have it yet.”

She noted that the approved plan still leaves some questions unanswered.

“When a child tests positive, who will go with [the others] to do daily tests for a week?” she asked. “Obviously the teachers won’t do that.”

On Sunday, Magen David Adom opened 120 rapid COVID testing centers across the country that promise to provide results in 15 minutes.

As of Sunday evening, there were 30,111 active COVID cases in Israel, with 597 hospitalized, 363 in serious condition and 50 on ventilators.

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