Six more Israeli schools identified coronavirus cases among students Saturday night and Sunday, and another one had a suspected case, sending many pupils into quarantine.
Channel 12 said schools in Jerusalem, Holon and Kiryat Yearim had all isolated classes after students were found to be carriers.
One student and one teacher were diagnosed at Jerusalem’s Hartman High School, causing the school to close until the end of the week and resume online studying. The teacher also teaches at the Gymnasia Rehavia, the epicenter of the new outbreak. The seventh-grade student likely caught the virus from a Gymnasia student during a basketball class.
An 11th-grade girl at the Jerusalem High School for the Arts was diagnosed with the virus on Sunday, along with a fifth-grader at the Zalman Aran school in the capital. An eight-grade girl at the Masorti High School in Jerusalem also contracted COVID-19, according to Channel 12.
One seventh-grade student was diagnosed at Katzir High School in Holon, sending four classes and six teachers into isolation.
Eight cases were found at a high school yeshiva in Kiryat Yearim, sending students into quarantine.
In Kiryat Yearim, one-third of the students tested for COVID-19 were found to be infected. Not all students have been tested, raising suspicion that the scale of the outbreak there hasn’t been fully discovered.
Another school, Makif Gimel in Beersheba, decided to send teachers and all its seventh-graders, 150 students, to isolation after one student, whose mother caught the virus several days ago, started displaying symptoms.
A final decision will be made as the test result for the girl comes back, Channel 12 said. The report said many students and teachers had been in contact with her, with one pupil describing “panic” following the news.
Despite a sharp increase in recent days in coronavirus infection rates focused on education institutions, government ministers have decided against a sweeping closure of schools during an overnight meeting.
Israel had 1,917 active cases as of Saturday night, with a majority under medical care at home and just 116 in hospital. Of those cases, 36 were in serious condition with 34 requiring mechanical ventilation. In Israel, 284 people have died of the virus since the outbreak reached the country earlier this year.
The surge in new coronavirus cases was largely centered on a Jerusalem school, the Gymnasia Rehavia, where a “super-spreader” reportedly infected some 80 people. All the students and staff are in the process of being tested.
The school and at least 16 others were expected to be shut temporarily as the cabinet convened on Saturday to discuss potential closures to stem the spread. The ministers decided against a suspension of the education system as a whole, opting to close schools only where infections have been recorded.
The Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem 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.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that the staff and parents’ committee indicated that a decision on reopening would not be made until testing was completed at Gymnasia Rehavia.
Israel on Saturday reopened four drive-through testing stations 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. The testing stations at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and in Beersheba and Haifa also later restarted operations.
Health officials are concerned that fewer people are getting tested. While at the height of the pandemic around 13,000-14,000 people were being tested every day, those numbers have dropped considerably in recent weeks as fewer people experience symptoms.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that it was too early to tell whether the upward trend in infections would warrant the reimposition of lockdowns.
Israel has had some important successes in fighting the global pandemic, Netanyahu said during a televised statement, but the crisis “is not behind us.”
“We put out the flames of the coronavirus but there are still embers, and any light wind could reignite these flames,” the prime minister said.
Earlier last week, Netanyahu encouraged Israel to “return to normal as much as is possible [within the social distancing and other guidelines] — go out for a coffee, for a beer… live it up. But we’re also monitoring the developments, the rate of contagion, and we will gear-up as appropriate.”
On Saturday night, he condemned what he termed a “loosening” of Israelis’ adherence to social-distance rules, and said the coming days would be a “test” to see whether restrictions need to be put back in place.
“As long as no vaccine is found for the virus it will return and spread if we aren’t meticulous about the rules,” Netanyahu said. “If we don’t do this, there will be no choice but to return to limitations on the economy and public sphere.”