Residents of Jerusalem Assisted-living Facility in Quarantine After Social Worker Gets Virus

The director of Nofim Tower: ‘That we’re managing to function is almost a miracle. If there are more cases, we’ll have a problem’

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The Nofim Towers assisted-living facility in Jerusalem.
The Nofim Towers assisted-living facility in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Some 170 residents of a Jerusalem assisted-living facility have been put into quarantine after a social worker was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The social worker, a woman in her 60s who has been designated  patient No. 45 of the more than 100 confirmed cases in Israel so far, was diagnosed in Jerusalem on Monday. She works at the city’s Nofim Tower facility and was in daily contact with the elderly, the population at greatest risk from the virus.

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After the social worker was diagnosed, nine residents of the facility were placed in quarantine, as were 10 employees – about a quarter of the staff. The other 160 residents are in voluntary quarantine.

Nofim Tower serves Jerusalem’s old-time elite, and is one of the few that are cooperatively owned. The residents are the shareholders, and they run the facility. This has helped them cope with the crisis, according to chairman Zvika Levy, himself a resident, and director Rafi Pollak.

Pollak was informed about the infected social worker just as he was trying to draft new instructions to deal with the crisis. He decided not to wait for orders from the government.

“On Sunday, I told my senior staff that we were going with draconian measures,” he said. “I announced a curtailment of cultural events, and on Monday we forbade entry to anyone who wasn’t a first-degree relative. Monday night, the chief physician called and told me the social worker was a carrier and we all had to go into quarantine.”

Pollak and the chief physician are two of the staffers now in full quarantine.

Patient No. 45 contracted the virus from a French man she was with  at a family function. The man discovered he had the virus only a week after he got home to France, so the social worker worked at the old age home for several days after she was infected.

Nine in full quarantine

Nine residents of the facility who had been in direct contact with her were placed in full quarantine. The remaining residents were told to limit contact with other people as much as possible. The synagogue and the dining room were closed, and meals were brought to residents’ rooms instead. The once lively facility became a ghost town. The corridors are almost empty, as residents remain in their apartments.

“We’re the group most at risk, but there’s no panic,” Levy said with a smile. “We told people, ‘Talk only with those you love.’ Our community spirit, which includes codes of humane behavior, is helping us.

The Nofim Towers assisted-living facility in Jerusalem, March 12, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

“Suddenly, there are no more [separate] working hours. Everyone does what’s needed and people try to help,” Levy continued. “We know which professor would continue reading books in quarantine for another five years without noticing, and who regularly sat in the cafeteria and needs to be called on all kinds of pretexts so he hears a human voice.”

On Thursday, a nursing aide caring for one of the residents fell ill with a high fever. She is now being tested for coronavirus.

Levy said a room was prepared for her on an upper floor, and those caring for her were asked to carrying her up there using the stairs  “because the elevator is a petri dish.” But the woman’s aides weren’t able to get her up the stairs, so they used the elevator. It was immediately disinfected, along with all the facility’s public areas, at a cost of around 50,000 shekels ($14,000).

“It’s a very complicated situation,” Pollak said. “That we’re managing to function is almost a miracle. We’re worried; the coming days will be decisive. If there are more cases, we’ll have a problem.”

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