COVID in Israel: School Year to Begin September 1

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Students in Jerusalem, last month.
Students in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel's cabinet decided Sunday night that the country would reopen its schools on September 1, despite fears that doing so will cause coronavirus cases to surge.

Both elementary and high schools will open on September 1, as they were originally expected to, the cabinet decided. Additionally, schools will be allowed to administer vaccinations during school hours, subject to parental approval, circumventing Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton who had previously voiced concern over in-school vaccinations.

The cabinet also ruled that in “red” cities with high rates of infection, any 8th- to 12-grade class with a vaccination rate of less than 70 percent would have to switch to remote learning.

On Sunday, the cabinet discussed whether to begin the year on September 1 as usual, postpone opening schools by a few days or until after the High Holiday. The hope is that parents over 30 will soon be able to receive a third dose of the vaccine that will reduce the spread of the disease among small children.

Last week, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said that if current infection rates don't go down "there will be no choice but to delay the beginning of the school year."

However, he added that there is an advantage to starting the school year September 1, as it will allow "experimentation with all the methods we want to introduce, such as quick tests, quarantining versus not quarantining, and gaining trust in serological tests."

On Sunday, 11,912 students and 1,324 teachers were confirmed as carriers of COVID-19, according to Education Ministry figures. Two weeks ago, 7,142 students and 777 tested positive for the disease. Among students with COVID-19, some 36 percent are in seventh through twelfth grade, and about 60 percent are in elementary school.

A national antibody test among 3- to 12-year-olds is slated to kick off on Sunday in municipalities around the country, in a bid to measure the extent to which the coronavirus spread undetected among the country’s children over the past year and a half.

The assumption is that many children were infected over the last eighteen months but showed no symptoms, and therefore were never diagnosed.

Israel’s authorities hope that a significant proportion of children ages 3-12, who are not currently eligible for vaccination, will be found to have antibodies and will thus be eligible for a Green Pass, exempting them from mandatory isolation should they be exposed to someone COVID-positive, and from COVID-19 testing which is now mandatory in order to enter sites and attractions. They will be able to maintain their daily routine, including attending school, and will reduce the burden on the education and healthcare systems.

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