COVID in Israel: At This Testing Station, Parents Pray for Positive Result

Israelis wait in long lines and in the sweltering heat to test their children for COVID antibodies, which will grant them entry to public venues and exempt them from quarantine if exposed to a carrier of the virus

Nir Tsadok
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Children are tested for COVID antibodies at Rishon Letzion, in Israel, on Sunday.
Children are tested for COVID antibodies at Rishon Letzion, in Israel, on Sunday.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Nir Tsadok

On Sunday, a week and a half before Israel’s school year was set to begin, there were only two reasons to go to Rishon Letzion’s Revivim high school – to attend a defensive driving course or to do an antibody test for children ages 3 to 11. If you didn’t know which was where, you could just follow the noise. Only one of the two options involved a commotion, and it didn’t have anything to do with learning who has the right of way.

Outside the gym, around the barriers that sought in vain to direct the long lines for the three testing stations, a perfect storm of circumstances made the wait a cruel and unusual punishment. These included a technical problem that required the results of each test to be entered manually, thereby delaying the testing; the burning sun and high humidity; and the ratio of three children per parent.

A reservist from the Home Front Command, which was running the site in conjunction with the municipality, mustered every vestige of authority she had to try to calm tempers. Even as everyone was screaming “I was first,” she insisted on taking people in the order of their prior registration. And after 10 tough minutes, with help from a crate full of bottles of juice, she managed to quell tempers.

The tests are meant to detect children who had the coronavirus but were never diagnosed. Aside from the fact that this will increase scientific knowledge of the disease’s spread, children who prove to have antibodies to the virus will be exempt from needing to get tested before entering a long list of places, and will also be exempt from quarantining after exposure to a carrier. These exemptions were the holy grail that drew the vast majority of the parents.

“Until now, we always wanted every test to be negative, and now, everyone wants it to come out positive,” said Yelena Malkin, who came with two children. “If they weren’t sick, great, but if they were sick, then at least we’ll know, and something good will come of it.

“The past year was a catastrophe, a nightmare,” she added, noting that her daughter had to study over Zoom. Her son was still in kindergarten, “but now that he’s going into first grade, I hope to find out that both were already sick.”

Had everything worked the way it was supposed to, Malkin would have gotten an answer in 15 minutes, as promised. Since things didn’t work properly, she’ll get her answer only on Monday.

For parents who are sick of their children being quarantined, a positive antibody test is a get out of jail free card. But at least at this testing station, the chances didn’t seem much better than winning the lottery.

Only after 80 tests did the first positive result turn up. Either Rishon Letzion children have been very good about social distancing, or this was simply bad luck. It’s too early to tell.

A National Security Council presentation to the coronavirus cabinet later Sunday evening revealed that out of 50,245 children tested that day, 15.5% of all tests came back positive, Ynet reported.

Mayor Raz Kinstlich said he disagreed that parents wanted their children to test positive. “But I do think it doesn’t hurt to know,” he added. “I’m removing my hat as mayor for a moment and speaking as a father whose wife works and has children in school, and it definitely won’t hurt to know. It will help get our economy back to normal.”

Tal Giro, a father of three, arrived with his 8-year-old son Uri and waited in line for 40 minutes. His two other children have already had the virus and recovered, while he and his wife have been vaccinated.

“Just yesterday, he got out of quarantine because of his middle sister, and we’re here to be done with this drill,” he said. “I look at it like this – to think it’s possible to get through this without being infected doesn’t seem likely. There’s school, there’s his basketball club. So if it’s at least possible to know that it has already happened, that’s better.”

“Soccer club,” Uri corrected him.

At the testing station to Uri’s left was a father whose son refused vehemently to allow his blood to be taken for the test. At one point, the boy fled to a far-off bench, crossed his arms and lowered his head. The female reservist who had tried to impose order at the entrance to the gym now tried to take on the role of child psychologist.

“I promise you it won’t hurt,” she told him. But he didn’t believe her.

Finally, miraculously, he was convinced to take the test, and everyone behind him was able to take another step forward. He didn’t even cry when the needle pricked him.

“You deserve a medal,” the female soldier who did the test said, and promptly stuck a sticker on his chest. He smiled.

Whatever the result of the test is, his father doubtless thought, the most important thing is that he be healthy. Healthy – but preferably with a positive result.

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