Thousands of students were sent into isolation Monday after staff and students at schools in Jerusalem, Hadera and Beersheba were diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Hebrew media reported that a student at the Multidisciplinary high school in Hadera was diagnosed with the coronavirus, sending 2,180 students and teachers into isolation. After consultations between the municipality, the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry and teaching staff, it was decided that the school should be temporarily closed down.
In addition, a student at the Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem tested positive for the virus, the Haaretz daily reported. The school had already announced on Saturday that it would not open until Tuesday at the earliest due to concerns that a large number of students had siblings who attend the Gymnasia Rehavia high school, which is seen as the epicenter of an outbreak in the capital with over 130 students and staff members diagnosed.
A dance teacher in the capital was also diagnosed, sending dozens of students into isolation.
Hundreds of staff and students in the southern city of Beersheba were also sent into isolation over suspicions of infections in a number of schools.
The mayor of Ashdod ordered the closure of the Beis Yaakov school in the city after a teacher was diagnosed with the virus. All 256 students and 22 staff members were sent into isolation.
According to a tally by Channel 12 news, students and children at 32 daycare facilities and schools around the country have now tested positive for the virus. The outlet did not give a time frame for those diagnoses.
The Haaretz daily reported Monday that health officials have recommended that any school with three or more students diagnosed with the virus should be immediately shut down, even if all the children are in the same class.
Outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said Sunday a sharp rise in virus cases may represent a broader trend and not be connected specifically to schools.
“There is a phenomenon that is beyond the Gymnasia and may be beyond the schools. And this is what we are concerned about,” he told reporters. “This is not an isolated incident.”
On Monday morning, the Health Ministry said that 35 new cases had been discovered since the evening before and that 33 of the country’s 1,994 active cases were in serious condition, of whom 30 were on ventilators. Another 43 were in moderate condition, while the rest were displaying mild symptoms. It said the death toll stayed steady at 285.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Sunday announced plans to expand virus testing to those not showing symptoms and sternly warned Israelis against relaxing social distancing and hygiene habits, as dozens of new infections were confirmed.
Medical services have thus far largely limited testing to those displaying symptoms of the virus and have resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected asymptomatic carriers.
Amid a significant rise in cases since Wednesday, Edelstein said he was changing the ministry’s policy and green-lighting tests for anyone in the vicinity of a person sick with the virus. This applies to all students and staff at schools where infections are found, as well as residents of assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other welfare residential facilities, said Edelstein.
He also said all doctors would now be allowed to direct patients to receive coronavirus tests and said he was investigating claims that Israelis seeking testing on Sunday had been turned away or told that testing would take days.
As he unveiled the looser criteria for testing, Edelstein stressed that even those who test negative must remain in 14-day quarantine if exposed to a virus patient or displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
Edelstein described the increase in infections as a “very troubling” development, and warned that without the public’s help, numbers would continue to rise. Earlier in the day, he said Israel could swiftly return to lockdown conditions.
On Saturday four drive-through testing stations were reopened across the country to step up the search for confirmed patients. The first one to reopen was at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium parking lot, which prioritized testing the remainder of the Gymnasia Rehavia school. Testing stations at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and in Beersheba and Haifa also later restarted operations.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to roll back its virus restrictions, reopening schools, synagogues, malls, restaurants and other spaces. While social distancing and hygiene guidelines remain in place, many have taken a more relaxed attitude as the virus appeared to wane, including toward a regulation requiring that masks be worn in most settings outside of home.
On Friday, a “significant” jump of 115 new coronavirus infections over 24 hours was reported, the first time that the 100 mark was breached since May 2. Saturday saw another jump in what health officials attributed to public complacency and failure to heed social distancing rules.