Four Months Into Coronavirus Outbreak in Israel, Health Ministry Formally Defines 'Seriously Ill'

According to new, uniform criteria, patients now fall within one of four groups, based on the seriousness of their condition

Ido Efrati
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Doctors at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva treat a coronavirus patient, April 26, 2020.
Doctors at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva treat a coronavirus patient, April 26, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati

For the first time, the Health Ministry issued criteria Sunday for designating the seriousness of individual coronavirus patients’ medical conditions. The decision came after doctors had called on the ministry to ensure that the definitions are uniform among all of the country’s hospitals. The four medical conditions – mild, moderate, serious and “on ventilator/critical,” are partially based on World Health Organization criteria.

Prior to this, there had been no uniform criteria in Israel, and medical institutions adopted various standards, doctors told Haaretz. Hospitals, and sometimes even individual doctors, made the determination based on their own general impressions and not necessarily in accordance with medical definitions. In the four months since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, the Health Ministry had only addressed the issue incidentally, in a document regarding medications for COVID-19 patients.

Following media reports of doctors' claims that the definitions were not uniform, the Health Ministry team that deals with epidemics determined the following criteria:

Patients in mild condition have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have a fever, cough, weakness and have lost their sense of taste and smell.

Patients in moderate condition have pneumonia.

Patients in serious condition have a respiratory rate of more than 30 breaths per minute or oxygen saturation levels of 93 percent or below without outside support or intervention. The saturation level adopts the World Health Organization criteria from March rather than the 90 percent levels from May, which placed a narrower group of patients in serious condition.

Patients on ventilators/in critical condition require mechanical respiratory support and/or have a body system that is seriously affected, such as shock or damage to the heart, liver or kidneys.

The new Health Ministry document states that the criteria are designed to ensure uniformity within and among the country's hospitals, in accordance with criteria set by international health organizations. It will also help properly place patients and allocate resources based on the “precise demands and needs of hospitals,” the document says.

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