In a Week, Coronavirus Closes 42 Schools, 150 Preschools Across Israel

The Education Ministry reveals the number of coronavirus cases in the school system after providing no official data

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Students attend school while wearing face masks in line with coronavirus restrictions at the Ben Gurion School, Givatayim, September 1, 2020.
Students attend school while wearing face masks in line with coronavirus restrictions at the Ben Gurion School, Givatayim, September 1, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

One week after the beginning of the school year, the Education Ministry on Tuesday published data of the rate of coronavirus infection in the education system for the first time. But the data is only partial, since it does not take into account areas in cities currently designated “red” and does not include the teaching staff who were infected with the virus last week.

According to the data, since September 1, 42 schools and 150 preschools have been closed as a result of instances of the virus. In total there are now 1,817 students with the virus, with 24,780 students in isolation.

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The Education Ministry did not provide data on schools that were partially closed, meaning that one or more grades in the school were closed - due to the virus. Haaretz has learned of a school where about 75 percent of the students are in isolation due to cases of the virus, but the school itself is not included in the list of closed schools because several dozen students continue to attend it. In addition, hundreds of schools in the 40 cities declared “red” today by coronvirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu will be closed on Wednesday.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said on Tuesday that according to current data, the infection rate in the education system is four times lower than that in the general population.

The ministry initially delayed releasing data on coronavirus cases in the education system, causing concern amid teaching staff. 

The office of Education Minister Yoav Gallant said earlier Tuesday that publication has been delayed so “the statistics can be confirmed,” and to distinguish between infections that actually began during summer vacation and new cases that emerged since school started.

At the beginning of the school year, the ministry committed itself to releasing regular updates about coronavirus cases in the educational system, but to date it has not done so.

The ministry has changed its response to confirmed cases being discovered in a school. Whereas last year the discovery of a confirmed case led to the immediate closure of the entire school until the epidemiological investigation was completed, this year only the class where the student or teacher is sick is required to be quarantined. Teachers contacted by Haaretz expressed dismay about this, saying it puts them at increased risk.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry seeks to continue the capsule model of dividing students depsite rising cases in the education system. On Monday, at a Knesset Education Committee session, the committee discussed the Education Ministry’s decision to divide 3rd and 4th grade classes into small groups of 18 students to limit the risk of infection. Committee chairman MK Ram Shefa (Kahol Lavan) announced two days ago that he would seek to cancel the capsule plan for these grades, saying the committee has not been shown any data proving that children in these grades have a higher rate of infection than 1st and 2nd graders, who attend school in the regular manner.

However, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, voiced strong opposition to the cancellation of the capsule plan. 

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