The number of people in Israel with COVID-19 multiplied over the past month in all areas of the country, according to an examination by Haaretz of Health Ministry figures issued between June 7 and July 6. The number of people with active infections rose in 262 communities, by an overall average of 499 percent; in some communities, the rise was many times that.
The southern coastal city of Ashdod was in the top 10 of all infection parameters over the past month, gaining 740 confirmed new coronavirus cases and 677 patients with active infections during that period. The rate of increase in the number of active infections was 1,612 percent, with 28.2 patients for every 10,000 residents.
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Other cities with exceptionally high case rates were Bat Yam (25.3 per 10,000 residents, a rise of 657 percent in the number of active cases); Dimona (41.8, rise of 8,200 percent) and Tiberias (34.4 active infections per 10,000 residents, for an increase of 906 percent).
The number of patients also rose significantly in ultra-Orthodox communities. That number increased by 410 percent over the past month, for an average of 45 active cases per 10,000 residents. In the past two weeks an outbreak erupted in one of the city’s largest yeshivas, where there were more than 200 confirmed cases.
Even so, the infection rates in Haredi communities and neighborhoods over the past month were lower than in the first wave of the pandemic in Israel. They accounted for 55 percent of all COVID-19 cases then, compared to 27 percent today. The relative improvement has been attributed mainly to greater compliance with guidelines for curbing the spread of the virus.
Since the second wave of the pandemic began, the question of whether or not to be tested for the virus has become a hot topic of conversation within the Haredi community. Most of its members comply with directives and undergo testing, but there are a number of Haredi sects and yeshivas whose leaders have instructed their followers and students not to be tested for the virus. Deputy Health Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said in an interview with Radio Kol Barama that he was aware of this, adding that each sect and each yeshiva follows the instructions of its spiritual leaders.
In many other religiously observant communities, however, leaders ordered the closure of educational institutions and a return to worship outside even before the latest restrictions were issued. Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) threatened to resign from the government this week if yeshivas were ordered to shut down. He said that only yeshivas with confirmed infections should be closed. An associate told Haaretz that he had figures showing that there are 92 yeshivas operating on the so-called bubble or capsule system, in which a group of people has contact only with members of that group. The guidelines call for bubbles of 26 students each. After two weeks the groups are brought together, and any student who leaves the yeshiva is barred from returning. “A total of 4,982 students are enrolled in these yeshivas, with zero infections,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We won’t let anyone touch these yeshivas. We’ll insist on this.”
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Another exception to the latest restrictions has to do with synagogues, where the number of worshippers has been capped at 19. “It’s inconceivable that restaurants will remain open and synagogues, where people don’t eat and they observe the directives, will be closed again,” Interior Minister Arye Dery (Shas) said this week. A person in his circle said Dery has said that he himself has stopped going to synagogue out of fear of infection, but added that he has data showing that synagogues are not sources of infection in the current outbreak. Therefore, said the source, there was no reason to shut them down.
Weddings 'a major source of infection'
Israel’s Arab communities have also seen a massive surge in COVID-19 infections. In Arara in the Negev, the number of active infections increased 822 percent over the past month, for a rate of 110.2 patients for every 10,000 residents – the highest in Israel. The largest rise in the rate of infection was in Kafr Qasem, which in one month went from a single patient to 113, representing an increase of 11,200 percent. The infection rate was 46 per 10,000 residents, second only to Arara in the Negev.
In Rahat, there were 177 new patients, an increase of 442 percent, which brought the town to a rate of 32 patients for every 10,000 residents. Baka al-Gharbiyeh, which recorded its first patients over the past month, now has 108, for a rate of 35.8 per 10,000 residents.
Umm al-Fahm added another 53 active cases, but it still has only 9.8 patients per 10,000 residents, below the national average. Deir al-Assad, a coronavirus hotbed during the first wave, recorded only two new patients over the past month despite having performed 230 tests.
According to the Arab community’s Emergency Committee, 111 new cases have been diagnosed in Arab towns since the start of this week, not including mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Since May 24, 1,510 cases have been diagnosed in Arab towns, significantly more than the 1,064 diagnosed during the previous three months.
Yet even as the number of patients has risen, the number of tests performed in Arab communities has fallen by around 10 percent. Since the start of the week, 4,019 tests were administered in Arab towns.
Doctors and other experts in public health said the main reason for the rise in incidence of the virus in the Arab community is the many weddings that have taken place since Ramadan ended on May 23.
“The connection between the rise in the number of patients and weddings with large numbers of guests is clearly evident,” said Dr. Zawiya Azbarka Na’amana of the Arab Doctors Association of the Negev. “Therefore, we have repeatedly urged the public to refrain from organizing mass weddings and not to pay condolence calls to mourners, as these are also a major source of infection.”