30 Million COVID Tests: Israel's Plan to Spare Kids Quarantine and Keep Schools Open

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Jerusalem school
'We’re relying on parents because we have no other choice,' admits Education Ministry official in charge of the program Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Israel's Education Ministry is conducting a pilot program at 247 schools across the country where frequent testing has replaced home isolation for students whose classmates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The move aims to keep schools open during the pandemic and reduce the number of children in quarantine.

The pilot program, known as Green Class, began at some schools in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities. It was opened up to secular schools on Sunday and will run through October 15, after which policymakers will decide whether to expand it to all schools nationwide.

Bennett, however, has tweaked the previous pilot program, which begin its trial period on Sunday. The program will exempt students in “green cities” – those with low infection rates – from quarantine if they have been exposed to a COVID carrier.

Unlike the Green Pilot, which provided an initial quarantine exemption, the student who has come into contact with a carrier will have to quarantine until they have received a negative PCR swab test. Once negative, the students will take a rapid antigen swab test at home before returning to school, where they will receive a week’s worth of free antigen test kits to take home. 

They will then be asked to conduct a rapid test at home every morning, and will be allowed to come to school if it shows a negative result. On the seventh day they will undergo a second PCR test, after which they will go back to normal and not be asked to show more test results in order to attend school. 

To carry out so much testing, the ministry recently purchased 30 million rapid low-cost kits for home use, even though the kits have not been approved for use by Israeli laboratories.

Currently, at schools not taking part in the program, students are asked to spend as many as 14 days in quarantine after being exposed to a COVID carrier, unless they are themselves vaccinated or have recovered from COVID. The Green Class initiative is meant to shorten, and where possible even avoid altogether, these quarantine periods for students in Israel, who had already missed a significant amount of school days over the past year due to lockdowns. 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visits an Ultra-Orthodox school in Bnei Brak.Credit: קובי גדעון/ לע״מ

The prime minister said last month he wanted “to keep to calculated risk management, not hysteria. Those who keep wanting closures and restrictions are decreeing that we relive 2020 forever, or at least for the foreseeable future.”

According to Bennett, “Without parents working, the economy cannot function. Kids without school deteriorate in every parameter. We must allow continuous learning, otherwise we’ll be raising a generation of zombies here.”

Sergei Kalnov is the Education Ministry official overseeing the pilot program. Asked if he felt parents would reliably report their children’s home test results, he told Haaretz that the government didn’t “have another way to test thousands of students a day” and that officials were teaching parents to use the kits.

“Our goal is to decide what is the optional model and to take it and recommend it to the government,” he said. “We’re relying on parents because we have no other choice. If we want to prevent quarantines, the parents have to do the tests.”

According to Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, the head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, despite not being “zero risk,” Green Class is a good alternative to mass isolation, especially in areas where infection rates are low.

But while some parents have expressed support for the program, others have raised concerns about the feasibility of daily tests.

“Good luck. I’m not signing because my kids won’t cooperate with such an idea. The tests are uncomfortable … and the people who came up with this asinine idea clearly don’t actually have to administer the tests on a daily basis,” one parent wrote in English on Facebook.

“I could deal with taking temperatures and filling out time-consuming forms on a daily basis but I am NOT going to fight with my kids over this and I’m certainly not going to sign something that allows the school to test them against their will.”

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