Israel Almost Defeated COVID-19 But Quickly Lost After Reopening All Its Schools
According to medical and public health officials, data from Israel shows its recent unchecked resurgence of COVID-19 is most likely the result of the May 17 decision to reopen all the nation’s schools.
One might say that Israel’s COVID-19 trajectory has “direct bearing” on the American debate on school closure and reopening. Many public health officials and experts caution that re-engaging in an in-person instruction for so many children across the nation during a period of rapidly rising case counts is ill-advised and would exacerbate America’s public health crisis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not directly opposed plans to reopen, but they have released guidelines for school reopening. Recommendations include staggering arrival times if there is “minimal” community transmission and extended class dismissals in the event of “substantial community transmission.”
Trump has demanded that American schools reopen for in-person classes, threatening to withhold federal funding from schools that choose to hold online instruction instead. On July 12, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claimed on Fox News Sunday that “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”
However, Israel’s experience with COVID-19 indicates that school reopenings are more risky than DeVos suggests.
- “On May 17 in Israel,” when the nation reopened all of its schools, “it appeared the virus not only was under control, but defeated. Israel reported only 10 new cases of COVID-19 in the entire country that day.”
- For several weeks up to that point, Israel had been experimenting with only elementary grade students attending classes in small “capsules,” groups that did not intersect with each other.
- On May 17, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore in a “corona emergency government” to fight the spread of the virus and announced that the nation’s entire school system would reopen.
- Hagai Levine, chair of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, said although “There was no measurable increase in contagion” from the capsule program, reopening the entire school system on May 17 was “contrary” to the association’s advice.
- “What happened next was entirely predictable,” he said.
On June 3, two weeks after schools opened, more than 244 students and staff were found to test positive for COVID-19.
According to the education ministry, 2,026 students, teachers, and staff have contracted COVID-19, and 28,147 are in quarantine due to possible contagion.
Just in the first two weeks of July, 393 kindergartens and schools open for summer programs have been shuttered due to cases of COVID-19.
…The level of school contagion became public last week during testimony provided to Israeli legislators by Udi Kliner, the health ministry’s deputy director of public-health services, whose boss had just quit in protest against the government’s mishandling of the crisis. Israel now surpasses 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 a day.
On Tuesday [July 14], Israel reported 1,681 new cases of COVID-19 infection, its worst result since the outbreak began.
Additionally, Johns Hopkins University reports that Israel, which confirmed about 16,000 total cases as of May 17, now has confirmed over 40,000 COVID-19 cases as of July 15. 47% of the 1,400 Israelis diagnosed with COVID-19 in June contracted it through schools.
A graph Tweeted by Eric Feigl-Ding shows Israel’s rolling average of new cases per million surging past Europe’s current rate and approaching America’s.
Mohammad Khatib, who is the epidemiological expert on the health ministry’s newly formed advisory committee on the coronavirus in the Arab sector, explained that schools presented a variety of factors contributing to spread. Carriers were bringing the virus into a closed space, and middle schoolers especially were liable to refuse to heed instructions on distancing and mask-wearing.
Whatever else we say, the fact is that schools were not prepared to take students back under the necessary conditions to contain the epidemic… reopening happened too fast. It was undertaken so quickly that it triggered a very sharp spike, and the return to more conservative measures came too little, much too late.
And Galia Rahav, who chairs the department of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, said in an interview that “what happened in schools is just too much gathering, day after day, and kids come home and infect mom and dad. The top numbers of new infections were in kids.”Infection among younger patients has become so widespread that “the average age of an Israeli with COVID-19 has gone down to between 20 and 39,” Rahav said.