Israel Rescinds Order to Wear Masks Until End of Heat Wave

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A protective face mask is covered by sand at the beach front in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 16, 2020.
A protective face mask is covered by sand at the beach front in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 16, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty

On Tuesday the Health Ministry suspended the order to wear face masks in classrooms and public spaces until the weekend, because of the extreme heat wave throughout the country.

Newly appointed Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced that due to soaring temperatures, wearing masks in open areas or classrooms without air conditioning is not mandatory, as long as people don’t congregate.

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Previously, the Health Ministry rejected the Education Ministry’s request to allow students not to wear masks due to the heat wave. That decision sparked resistance among students, parents and doctors. One local authority head said that in his jurisdiction, “No one will run after the students to put masks on.” Givatayim Mayor Ran Kunik called the order “detached from reality.”

On Monday, school resumed for grades four through ten throughout the country. However, some parents’ associations and localities announced they would not reopen classes due to the extreme heat, while others announced that school would take place in a limited scope. Yehud-Monosson reopened school only on Tuesday, and Ra’anana let students in grades four through twelve finish school at noon. In one Rishon Letzion elementary school, the parents’ committee announced a strike of grades four and up.

On Sunday, the education system officially resumed full activity for all ages, but the majority of Israeli schools continued to operate in a limited capacity with just grades one through three and eleven and twelve. According to Education Ministry figures, only 17 percent of local authorities resumed a full class schedule for grades four through ten on Sunday.

Principals who reopened classes this week acknowledged that the Education Ministry directives were impossible to implement. “It was hard for the students to keep the masks on their faces the whole day,” one principal wrote to parents at the end of the school day yesterday. “It is not possible to maintain a distance of two meters between students since they sit in pairs at a single desk.”

The Education Ministry directives call for students in fourth grade and up to wear masks during class time too, while those in second grade and third grade need wear masks at recess. Some schools have expanded the requirement to include first-graders.

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