Israeli Airport Staffer Who Sought Coronavirus Test in Vain Now in Critical Condition

Co-workers, 16 hospital staffers in contact with him in quarantine ■ Healthcare system 'works on autopilot,’ charges spouse

Ido Efrati
Bar Peleg
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A man walks past the screen announcing arrivals at Israel's Ben Gurion airport, March 4, 2020.
A man walks past the screen announcing arrivals at Israel's Ben Gurion airport, March 4, 2020. Credit: AFP
Ido Efrati
Bar Peleg

An airport employee whose requests to be tested for coronavirus had been turned down for days was hospitalized in quarantine this week after testing positive for the disease. The man, in his 60s, is in critical condition in intensive care at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

Airport employees who came in contact with the man – who had not come to work for 10 days because he was running a fever and had respiratory difficulties – as well as 16 employees of Ichilov Hospital, where he had tried unsuccessfully to get tested, were also told to go into home isolation.

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The man was eventually hospitalized in fair condition, however late on Wednesday his condition took a turn for the worse. He was put into a medically-induced coma and breathing with the help of a ventilator.

While away from work, the man also asked to be tested at a Kupat Holim Leumit clinic in Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal, where he lives with his family. The Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal local council said the local Leumit Kupat Holim clinic has been closed and the staff have all gone into self-quarantine. The council has suspended public reception hours and all services are being provided remotely.

The man’s wife wrote to the residents of Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal that the Kupat Holim medical staff there refused to test him until Tuesday.

She said her husband had a fever for 10 days and she had a fever for five days. “We pleaded with Magen David Adom to come and take a sample,” she wrote. “We told them that he works for the Airports Authority, that what he is feeling isn’t normal, that he has pneumonia. They said no.”

She continued, “At the Kupat Holim and in the [Ichilov] emergency room, too, they didn’t take us seriously, even though they saw how he looked and the pneumonia and the results of the blood tests.”

She said her husband was admitted to the hospital Sunday and discharged the next day with antibiotics.

“In the afternoon, he felt unwell again,” she wrote. “Again, they wouldn’t agree to do a coronavirus test on him and he was hospitalized.” After the man was found to be infected, his wife was also tested and is currently in quarantine.

Sources in the health system confirmed that the patient came to Ichilov Sunday night with a fever, but was not tested for coronavirus. These sources say that at the hospital he was told he did not fit the Health Ministry’s criteria for testing. Approval for testing has to come from a Health Ministry district physician and is given for people showing the typical symptoms of the virus and who returned from a country where there is a coronavirus outbreak, or who came in close contact with a verified coronavirus carrier. The district physician also has the authority to order testing based on a general impression in atypical cases.

Netanyahu during a televised press conference about coronavirus, on March 11, 2020.Credit: Ohad Ziegenberg

Sources added that an ER doctor at Ichilov insisted that the patient be tested after he was admitted for the second time. When he was found to be infected with the virus, he was hospitalized in a fair condition in isolation in intensive care.

“It’s a terrible feeling – although I know we did all we could to report, to request a sample, to be admitted to the hospital,” his wife wrote. “The system works on autopilot without exercising judgment and thinking outside the box.”

Regarding the possibility that other people were infected while the pair were in the Ichilov emergency room and the Kupat Holim clinic, the woman said: “To anyone who was exposed to us, I apologize. We didn’t move around very much because we didn’t feel well, except a little bit here and there, especially at the Leumit Kupat Holim clinic.” .

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