Teens meandered Sunday into Dagan Junior High with the slowness typical of the start of a new school week. Sixty students at the school in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim had been ordered into quarantine after it was discovered that they had been near tourists from South Korea who came down with the new coronavirus.
A teacher at the gate “aimed” his cellphone at the foreheads of entering students, as if it were one of the so-called thermometer guns that have become a hallmark of the outbreak.
Around half of the students coming through the gate seemed to be coughing or wiping their noses, as is typical during an Israeli winter, and no one seemed bothered by it. The fact that two classes were touring Masada when the Korean tourists were at the site did not upset the students.
“People have gone completely crazy,” declared one man who was dropping off his daughter, as he removed balloons and a cake from his car for her 13th birthday. “The children have been walking around in circles for 10 days already, what’s there to be afraid of?” he added.
Another father, whose daughter was with the South Koreans on the cable car in Masada and is now in home quarantine, expressed surprise at the conduct of the authorities. “It’s very strange, they gave us permission to go to work, and my wife is a nurse at Rambam Medical Center,” said David Attias, referring to the hospital in Haifa. He said that the family is planning a trip to Thailand in around six weeks and has no plans to cancel.
His wife told Haaretz that their daughter Einav informed them that the students met several times with members of the South Korean group. Some even took pictures with the Christian group.
“Everything is as usual. I’m not at all paranoid, I’m not afraid.” She said that their daughter has exams, “but the school is taking care of that. I tell the parents that everything will be OK. There’s no panic. We gave her instructions not to walk around, not to go out with the dog, to stay on her floor as much as possible.”
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Another mother, who came to school with a boy carrying a big bottle of hand sanitizer gel, was less calm. “It’s crazy pressure,” she said, who works in another school as a homeroom teacher. “It’s not only my son, it’s all of Kiryat Haim,” she added. “The children who were sent to quarantine could have been in the café where I was sitting or on the bus. I considered not bringing him [to school] and that’s why we’re late. If it happened it’s already happened. The important thing is to continue as usual.”
She said that she talked the principal, who reassured her. From the moment they heard about the encounter with the South Koreans, the parents’ WhatsApp messaging groups were buzzing.
“Who’s sending the children to school? Who’s afraid? We reassured one another, that children are less susceptible,” she said, describing the correspondence. Later she reported that about 70 percent of her students showed up. According to the Education Ministry, about 60 percent of the students came to school on Sunday.
Hani Greenberg, the principal of the Kiryat Haim High School, told Haaretz that when the school staff discovered that the South Koreans had taken the same route as the eighth graders they quickly obeyed the instructions. “We found out who the students were, we found two classrooms and contacted all the students and parents. We transmitted the order to remain in home quarantine for four days. The entire staff was available until 1:30 A.M.”
She said that 58 students are now in home quarantine, as well as five teachers, a security guard and four counselors. Greenberg says “Some of the parents decided not to send the children to school, and that’s okay with us. We understand the fear, and we’ve prepared a special lesson plan so the students can talk and express their concerns.”