Israeli Hospital Isolates ultra-Orthodox as Coronavirus Cases Climb in Communities

Staff emphasize differential treatment based on geographical mapping of the coronavirus, rather than group affiliation

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The coronavirus wing of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, in Ramat Gan, March 29, 2020.
The coronavirus wing of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, in Ramat Gan, March 29, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Emergency room staff at Sheba Medical Center in central Israel have been directed to isolate patients from ultra-Orthodox communities that have a high incidence of the coronavirus – including patients who show no symptoms. The policy includes residents of Bnei Brak, Elad and the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit, all of which have had major outbreaks. 

The Ramat Gan-based hospital's emergency room policy follows Monday’s report by Haaretz that maternity patients at Sheba and Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv who are from ultra-Orthodox locales have been separated from other patients and are considered possible coronavirus carriers. Health care officials have said they expect that a similar policy separating patients from areas with a high incidence of the virus would be instituted shortly at the country’s other hospitals, and that Sheba was quick to act since it receives a large number of patients from the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb Bnei Brak.

Medical teams consider patients showing symptoms after having contact with a known coronavirus carrier, having returned from abroad or who hail from areas with a high incidence of infection within the country of being at higher risk of having contracted the disease. Sheba Medical Center has a separate, “preliminary” emergency room to which those with respiratory symptoms are referred to screen for the coronavirus, and to separate them from other patients. 

Hospitals have been careful to separate carriers both to protect medical staff and other patients from infection, and to instill a sense of confidence among the public that they can still safely go to the hospital without risking contracting the illness. Immediately following the coronavirus outbreak, many patients were reportedly afraid to go to a hospital even if they needed to be admitted or to receive urgent medical treatment. 

Since then, particular areas of the country have been designated as having a high incidence of the disease, thus requiring special attention. Sheba Medical Center emphasized that it is these areas' designation, rather than their demographics, that spurred the differential treatment of patients.

As initially reported by the Walla News website, an internal document was circulated at Sheba entitled “Goal: Preventing patients carrying the coronavirus from entering the hospital, while providing medical care to the entire population.” The document instructed staff to ask ultra-Orthodox patients where they were from. If they were from a location with a high incidence of the coronavirus, even if they were asymptomatic, they were to be placed in isolation and tested for the virus, with further treatment to be administered only after the test results were received.

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