Israel's Health Ministry received a new plan to deal with a potrential second wave of the coronavirus this week, predicting that it could coincide with a spike in seasonal flu cases, raising the risk of a medical services overload.
The projection is that at the peak of a winter outbreak, a combined 200,000 patients a week may require medical attention for either influenza or the coronavirus.
In the plan, Maccabi Healthcare Services, Israel’s second-largest health maintenance organization, suggests that the country’s four HMOs be the front line handlers of any additional coronavirus outbreak.
It suggests a wider use of telemedicine – consultations by phone or videoconferencing – and treating patients at home rather than in the hospital.
Maccabi deputy director general Nachman Ash said Monday that in recent months, 90 percent of the country’s coronavirus patients received medical treatment from the HMOs and that “in the next wave, we will be prepared for larger numbers of patients.” Ron Saar, the director general of Maccabi, said “the entire management of the health system will change. If we learn the lessons from the first wave, we will protect elderly patients at home and at old-age homes and reduce the number of seriously ill patients and deaths.”
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The proposal also calls for the HMOs, which in addition to Maccabi include Meuhedet, Leumit, and the country’s largest, Clalit, to conduct 30,000 coronavirus tests a day focusing on high-risk segments of the population; tracing of outbreaks through analysis of samples from sewage systems; and providing more home treatment for these patients instead of hospitalizing them.
Maccabi also suggested doubling the number of Israelis receiving flu shots before next winter’s flu season. The HMO proposes setting up drive-through flu vaccination stations in cities – similar to facilities that were set up for coronavirus testing – as an efficient means of administering mass flu vaccinations.
“It’s possible to save more patients next winter and to leave the economy open,” Saar said. “The cost to the economy of a day’s lockdown was 2 billion shekels [$567 million], and if even half that amount is invested in the HMOs, the economy would be able to continue to function without a lockdown.”