Israeli Fifth and Sixth Graders to Return to School in Cities With Low COVID Infection Rates

Outdoor shopping centers in areas with low infection rates are expected to open Wednesday

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A capsule with fifth graders learning outside in Tel Aviv, November 9, 2020.
A capsule with fifth graders learning outside in Tel Aviv, November 9, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The coronavirus cabinet on Monday agreed to resume in-person schooling for students in the fifth and sixth grades in communities with relatively low COVID infection rates, starting Tuesday of next week.

In addition, outdoor shopping areas in cities with low infection rates are expected to open this Wednesday.

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Under the agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, 11th and 12th graders in these communities will go back to school in two weeks. The Health Ministry opposed any relaxation of the restrictions, saying this was likely to increase the incidence of infection.

The ministers also supported imposing a night curfew on communities where infection rates are high. This requires the approval of the ministerial committee for restricted areas.

The Health Ministry says that Israel now has 14 communities with high infection rates, all of them Arab or Druze. 

Under the so-called traffic light guidelines, communities across the country are examined and ranked weekly based on the following criteria: The number of new cases per 10,000 residents, the rate of positive tests as a percentage of all COVID-19 tests, and the pace of the increase in the number of patients.

Based on these statistics, each locale gets a grade between 1 and 11. "Red" towns, where infection rates are high, are those with a grade of more than 7.5, while "orange" towns are graded between 6 and 7.5. "Yellow" towns are those graded between 4.5 and 6, and "green" towns are those with grades of less than 4.5, where infection rates are the lowest. 

The decision to return tens of thousands of children to school was made even though the infection coefficient (the R factor) stood Monday at 1.06, the highest it has been since September 25, just before Yom Kippur. An R number greater than 1 means that every virus carrier is infecting on average more than one other person, and indicates that the virus is spreading.

A proposal the National Security Council submitted to the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday calls for a general curfew from 8 P.M. until morning, with commerce to be banned after 7 P.M. The Health Ministry doesn’t believe a night curfew will improve the morbidity data. A senior Health Ministry official said that one could impose a night curfew and examine its effect, “But not if you are continuing with the exit plan and opening additional places.”

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