Despite Botched Trial, Israel Expands Quarantine-free Program to Schools Nationwide

Parents and students in Israel have been hesitant to comply with the COVID testing requirements, preventing researchers from verifying whether it's safe to use in other schools. But Bennett still pushes ahead with the program

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Magen David Adom staff and a volunteer in Tel Aviv in 2020.
Magen David Adom staff and a volunteer in Tel Aviv in 2020. Credit: Ariel Schalit/ AP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The government approved the expansion of the 'Green Class' program intended to minimize student quarantines, despite the fact that a pilot for the project was not fully completed and experts were unable to determine its efficacy.

Only half the number of classes originally planned to participate in the pilot program were recruited, and in those classes, not all participating students were tested as required. "It is not clear whether a home antigen test helps prevent morbidity," read a presentation to decision-makers, which also found considerable reluctance among parents of participating students.

Seventy-five percent of parents failed to conduct rapid tests for their children or did not report the results to the school. Additionally, teachers and school principals did not collect student attendance reports - making it difficult to implement the program.

Only a fraction of those ostensibly participating in the trial produced usable data, the researchers said.

Israel's Education Ministry conducted the pilot program at 247 schools across the country over the last few weeks, where frequent testing has replaced home isolation for students whose classmates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Any 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.

Bennett announced last night that he has decided to expand the program to kindergartens, day care centers and yellow cities from next week.

Asked if he felt parents would reliably report their children’s home test results, Sergei Kalnov, the Education Ministry official overseeing the pilot program, told Haaretz earlier this month 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 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.”

While some parents expressed support for the program after it was initially announced, others raised concerns about the feasibility of daily tests, with one mother posting on Facebook that “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.”

The data presented at the Health Ministry's discussion stated that "the pilot was partly carried out, and it is not possible to determine whether the outline is safe and under what conditions." The Ministry of Health also warned that the implementation of the program in orange and red localities could lead to a 50 percent increase in infections among students.

According to a qualified recommendation from the Ministry of Health, the expansion of the program against the background of the current low rate of illness is not expected to raise the coefficient of total infections in Israel (R) to a high level (1), even if it causes more infections in schools.

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