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    Coronavirus crisis in Israel: Record number of tests, 123 new cases

    Seven residents of a senior living center test positive * More than 16,000 people screened in one day * 106 schools closed

    Shoppers wear face masks and walk around a fashion shopping center in Ashdod, as restrictions over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around Israel, May 5, 2020.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

    Shoppers wear face masks and walk around a fashion shopping center in Ashdod, as restrictions over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ease around Israel, May 5, 2020.

    (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

    The number of coronavirus cases in Israel is exponentially growing. Over the weekend, between 7 p.m. Thursday and the same time Saturday, some 257 people were diagnosed with COVID-19. Among the newly infected are seven residents of a senior living facility in Or Yehuda.

    “We need to assume that we are in an outbreak of unknown magnitude,” said outgoing Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov during recent internal deliberations, according to the Hebrew media site N12. He said that the number of coronavirus cases continues to expand and that “it will take time until we understand the extent” of the challenge. 

    Sources in the meeting claimed he used the term “second wave,” which he later denied.

    Three more people died over the weekend, bringing the total to 295. Of the 2,407 active cases, some 21 are intubated.

    However, it should be noted that the number of people being tested for the virus has nearly tripled. The Health Ministry reported that more than 16,160 people were tested on Friday and more than 7,000 on Saturday by 7:30 p.m., with the expectation that more people would be screened by midnight.

    The increased screening comes on the backdrop of a change in testing policy, rolled out by newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. Now, people with or without coronavirus symptoms can request screening.

    Previously, testing was designated for those who were in quarantine and showed symptoms. For asymptomatic cases, people were eligible to be tested only if they had stayed in the vicinity of a confirmed coronavirus patient for more than 15 minutes or had returned from a country with a high rate of infections.

    Although there are more patients, the increased testing rate means that still only around 1% of those tested are found to have coronavirus. Experts believe that if Israel maintains an infection rate of one to less than one, restrictions can continue to be lifted. If the rate hits even 1:1.1 or 1:1.2, then another lockdown could be necessary.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on May 4 that if Israel saw more than 100 new patients per day that a lockdown could be reinstated, but no such move has been made thus far.

    The main source of infection still appears to be the schools, although new reports of coronavirus inside senior living centers have also started to emerge.

    Seven residents and three staff members from a senior living facility in Or Yehuda were diagnosed with coronavirus over the weekend, including one resident who was hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

    One of the caregivers tested positive at the beginning of last week and was placed in isolation at a coronavirus hotel. Residents and staff were immediately tested, but the results were negative. Follow-up testing at the end of the week revealed the positive results.

    Six residents have mild symptoms and were transferred to geriatric medical centers. Two caregivers are being treated at coronavirus hotels and a third is being treated at home, the Health Ministry said.

    The cases were caught quickly due to the country’s Magen Avot v’Imahot program, which focuses on testing senior caregivers on a regular basis. The plan was designed by Ronni Gamzu, the CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and is now being managed by Prof. Nimrod Maimon.

    “We immediately followed all the rules, including isolating the residents and ensuring they are not in contact with other patients,” the nursing home said in a statement.

    The center said it is working closely with representatives from the Health Ministry to protect residents, including cleaning and disinfecting the facility.

    Last week, at a Knesset Coronavirus Committee meeting, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto confirmed that the Magen Avot v’Imahot program was in full swing and that as many as 3,000 caregivers and residents were being screened daily.

    As for the schools, the Education Ministry is reporting 330 students and faculty who are sick with coronavirus as of Saturday night, and some 16,327 who are in isolation. Some 106 institutions are closed.

    According to the ministry, 99% of schools continue to operate normally and the number of closed institutions is only 0.42%.

    The majority (56%) of cases are in Jerusalem, the ministry said, among them 80% from the Gymnasia Rehavia school.

    However, Jerusalem is not the only area with coronavirus cases, the Health Ministry showed. A report published late Thursday showed spikes in more than 10 cities across Israel.

    The top 10 are Jerusalem (53 in three days); Tel Aviv (25); Beersheba (17); Bnei Brak (15); Ashdod (14); Rahat (10); Bat Yam (9); Ar’ara, Migdal Haemek, Modi’in Illit, Sderot (7) and Holon (6).

    “Until a vaccine is found, we will have to focus on the ‘coronavirus routine,’” Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz posted on his Facebook page on Friday. “We must not tell ourselves stories or legends – we must act responsibly.”

    He wrote that the economy and education system must remain open and that the government must act quickly when infection is found.

    “Our motto is to live with corona not under it,” he wrote. “We will continue to work hard to restore the coronavirus’ damage and its social and economic impact on Israeli citizens. This is our commitment.”

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