All nursing home residents and employees will be tested for the coronavirus if anyone in the facility is diagnosed with COVID-19, Israel's Health Ministry announced Tuesday evening, marking a major policy change.
Last week, a special team within the Health Ministry recommended expanding virus testing to include people without symptoms in prisons, nursing homes and other residential facilities with at least one coronavirus patient. As of Wednesday morning, 19 residents from four different nursing homes around the country have died of COVID-19.
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Before the Health Ministry announced the change in policy, the High Court of Justice decided to hold a hearing on a petition submitted by 24 nursing homes and assisted living centers, along with the national association representing such facilities. The petition asked the High Court to order testing for all staff and residents in nursing homes as proper protection for the staff.
The attorney for the petitioners, Ilan Bombach, asked the High Court to conduct the tests within 24 hours for all the staff and residents of facilities where someone was found to be ill with COVID-19, as well as conducting widespread testing in places where the infection had not yet been found – and to compensate them for the cost of purchasing protective equipment. The hearing was set for Monday.
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Residents and staff members at other assisted living facilities around the country have been tested for the virus. All residents of Migdal Nofim in Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva's Mishan home were finally tested, but only after a persistent refusal by the Health Ministry to do so. At the other nursing homes, tests were conducted only after a resident or staff member was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and only on a small sampling of people.
The team of professionals organized last week by the ministry recommended testing as many people as possible who could possibly infect at-risk population groups. The emphasis was on testing medical and other staff in geriatric and nursing facilities.
In addition, the team recommended testing as many patients as possible who could infect essential workers and medical staff. If a person infected with the coronavirus was found in a nursing home, the officials recommended taking only three random samples, once every five days.
Nursing home directors sent a petition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Health Ministry last week calling on them to carry out coronavirus testing immediately for all those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and their workers. “Don’t abandon our parents, grandfathers, grandmothers and staff!” wrote the directors. “As many as 45,000 residents and 22,000 staff members are at high risk of being infected by the coronavirus.”
The Association of Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities praised the ministry’s decision. Roni Ozeri, the association’s chairman, said: “We regret that we were forced to go all the way to the High Court of Justice to receive the equal and appropriate treatment the facilities, staff and first of all the residents deserve.”