COVID in Israel: Infection Rate Continues Rise, Serious Cases Decline

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COVID test in Haifa, Israel, last week
COVID test in Haifa, Israel, last weekCredit: Rami Shllush

The COVID infection rate in Israel rose for a third consecutive day, data from the Health Ministry published on Monday showed, and now stands at 1.01.

When this rate, or R number, rises above 1, the pandemic is spreading; when the R number is below 1, the pandemic is shrinking.

It is calculated 10 days later, meaning Monday's data reflect the situation in early September, coinciding with the start of the school year.

The number of severe COVID cases, meanwhile, declined to 691 from 711 the day before. Of the 691 cases, about 65 percent are unvaccinated Israelis – which make up about 15 percent of the population eligible for vaccines.

The Health Ministry registered 7,686 new COVID cases, compared with 10,183 the day before. 7,383 Israelis have died of COVID since the pandemic began.

COVID testing sites will close on Yom Kippur eve, Wednesday, at 12 P.M, and will reopen on Friday. Israel's COVID czar Prof. Salman Zarka said that antigen tests taken on Yom Kippur eve will be valid until the fast ends on Thursday evening to allow people to take part in prayers.

The data from the past week are a particular cause of confusion due to the sharp daily fluctuations over the past week. They come against the backdrop of the beginning of the school year on September 1, massive rapid testing of about a million school children and changes in demand for COVID testing around the country, which has sometimes caused long lines at testing sites.

Last week’s Rosh Hashana holiday, which was marked by family gatherings, holiday celebrations and synagogue attendance, also resulted in closer contact among members of the public. All of that has obscured what had been a consistent decline in the incidence of infection and make the current data difficult to interpret.

The R number, indicating the number of people that the average COVID patient infects, is now just over 1, an increase from 0.81 a week ago. That could be a preliminary sign of the continued spread of the coronavirus, but experts suggest that the volatility of the data provides reason for some skepticism regarding the current data and suggest waiting until things become clearer.

“Taken as a whole, over the past week, we have been seeing 3 percent more tests compared to the week before but nevertheless [saw] a 15 percent drop in the number of confirmed cases and a 16 percent drop in seriously ill patients,” Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute said. “The Health Ministry calculations do in fact show an R number of 1.01, but these changes stem in part from the days that were a holiday, which affects the volatility [for] a few days.”

One trend that has become more prominent from day to day has been the number of seriously ill patients who are not vaccinated. This includes a reported increase in the number of young unvaccinated patients who are seriously ill. The figures are particularly stark when one bears in mind that most of the adult population is vaccinated. Of the 691 seriously ill hospitalized patients, 446 haven’t been vaccinated at all, while only 58 have received three doses.

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