Israel's COVID Infection Rate Doesn’t Justify Closing Schools, Czar Says

Salman Zarka urges those aged 12 and under to take a rapid COVID test before joining family gatherings over the High Holidays and for synagogues to conduct open-air prayers

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A vaccination clinic in Jerusalem this week.
A vaccination clinic in Jerusalem this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Salman Zarka, said Thursday that the start of the school year is a “clear message that we can live with COVID,” and added that health officials have not yet determined how many active coronavirus cases would trigger the closure of schools.

“I don’t believe that any class will need to be closed for more than a few days,” Zarka said. “We can’t guarantee that in the coming school year there won’t be any COVID cases in the schools, so we’re bringing vaccines to the schools. Happily, there’s been a lot of demand.”

In classes where the number of vaccinated students is under 70 percent – the minimum to conduct in-person classes – school officials can order a mobile vaccination unit to come, he added.

Regarding the High Holidays, which begin next Monday evening, Zarka urged adults to get vaccinated and children aged 12 and under to take a rapid coronavirus test before joining family gatherings. He said that during the holiday period, the results of the PCR for children would be considered valid for 96 hours.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is still with us and will stay with us for many more months,” he said. “I call on everyone to hurry up and get vaccinated before the holidays and for children up to age 12, who can’t be vaccinated, to take the rapid test.”

He also recommended that synagogues conduct prayers out of doors rather than inside buildings.

Although he called it the right decision, Zarka expressed concerns about starting the school year almost simultaneously with the start of the High Holiday period. “The resumption of mixing [in classrooms and synagogues] will increase infections,” Zarka noted. He added, however, that with the help of vaccines, we could begin October with a declining rate of infections.

The coronavirus czar said the recent drop in the number of serious COVID cases was encouraging, but stressed that “the fight isn’t over. We’re constantly monitoring the data and assessing the situation at least twice a day.” He added that while he is cautiously optimistic, saying “due to some moderation we’re seeing an increase in infections in recent days. But we’re seeing less of a moderation in the number of positive test results.”

Zarka stressed the importance of vaccination for younger and healthier people. “Even mild cases sometimes lead to chronic conditions and what we’re now calling ‘long COVID,’” he said.

According to Health Ministry data, 11,210 new COVID cases were diagnosed on Thursday, with 8.43 percent of tests coming back positive. The last time that figure reached above eight percent was in February, while the initial vaccination drive was still in full swing.

Nevertheless, the number of serious cases are continuing to fall, with 667 as of Friday morning, down from 753 on Sunday. There are currently 143 people on ventilators.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 7,122 people have died of the coronavirus in Israel.

Nearly 2.5 million people have received their third COVID booster shot, Health Ministry data shows. The ministry also said that contrary to recent media reports, the risk of an unvaccinated person getting COVID is 20 times that of someone who has been inoculated.

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