Israeli Authorities Preparing for Thousands of ‘Serious’ Coronavirus Patients

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A doctor examining a patient in an isolation tent at Rambam hospital, Haifa, March 9, 2020.
A doctor examining a patient in an isolation tent at Rambam hospital, Haifa, March 9, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

The Health Ministry has drawn up protocols for handling the need to provide hospital beds for large numbers of patients with the new coronavirus in the “near future.”

The plans were included in a document submitted to a Tel Aviv-area court on Thursday.

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Dr. Udi Kleiner, the deputy director of public health services in the Health Ministry, told the court that in the near future up to 2,500 patients are expected to be diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel, many of them in serious condition, but most of them with mild cases of the disease. He said hospitals will not be able to accommodate them all.

Medical personnel in the isolation section of Rambam hospital, Haifa, March 9, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

The document outlining the Health Ministry’s preparations for the possible mass coronavirus outbreak was submitted as part of Rishon Letzion’s battle against Health Ministry plans to place as many as 300 or so coronavirus patients in the city’s geriatric center if needed. Other measures include postponing operations and placing coronavirus patients in private hospitals.

Kleiner told the court the coronavirus situation was changing rapidly. “If up until a few weeks ago we were in the prevention stage, we’ve long left that behind. The infection rate has reached 20 patients a day, and is expected to rise.”

Under the plan, as long as the total number is below 500, each hospital should be prepared to house 30 coronavirus patients in a separate ward. If the total number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization is from 50-1,000, all non-urgent medical activity in hospitals, including several types of surgery, will be suspended to enable each hospital to admit more patients.

If patient numbers exceed 1,250, patients with mild cases requiring hospitalization or those who cannot self-quarantine will be sent to Health Ministry compounds such as Shmuel Harofe Hospital and the geriatric center in Rishon Letzion.

If patient numbers exceed 2,000, private hospitals (Assuta, Herzliya Medical Center, Elisha) will cancel surgery and admit surgical patients transferred from general hospitals. If the number is higher than 2,500, rehabilitation centers adjacent to the hospitals will admit patients in good condition who were diagnosed as not requiring medical treatment or close monitoring.

At each stage the authorities will examine “home hospitalization” for patients in light condition or for recovering patients up to 14 days after the virus was detected.

Visitors to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem take a test for fever, March 12, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The protocol specifies that patients with the coronavirus will be discharged to home hospitalization if their condition is sufficiently stable; if they have the assistance of a relative or another person, if they have a separate bedroom, access to food and basic needs and if no household members are in enhanced danger of complications. Health maintenance organizations will be responsible for monitoring and seeing to the treatment of these patients, the ministry’s protocol states.

People who are homeless or who are elderly and solitary, foreign workers and others who aren’t able to self-quarantine will be placed in one of two centers the ministry is readying. One of them is the Malben geriatric center in Rishon Letzion, which has 80 residents. The city opposes having coronavirus patients living with elderly people, who, according to the World Health Organization and the Health Ministry, are among those with the highest risk of dying from the virus.

The Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court is expected to rule on the issue Sunday.

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