Israel Poised to Expand COVID Quarantine Exemption to All Schools, Preschools

The new program is based on home testing as Israel's number of daily COVID cases extends its fall

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First-graders in class on the first day of school last month.
First-graders in class on the first day of school last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry is expected to expand the pilot program that stresses rapid home testing for COVID to all schools and day care centers, as Israel continues its efforts to avoid mass quarantines of school children.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the final decision on the matter would be made Monday. The move follows the success of the Green Class pilot program over the past two weeks, despite some parents' doubts about their small children's willingness to comply with testing.

It also comes as the country's number of daily new cases shrinks. On Saturday, 734 new cases were diagnosed across Israel, the first time in three months that the number fell below 1,000.

The Health Ministry has not finished processing the data on the Green Class program, which was conducted in 247 schools in 19 communities, but ministry officials say the pilot, which was not conducted in preschools or day care centers, has proved itself.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka told a press conference that he is working with local governments on the expansion, which the Education Ministry hopes will happen quickly.

Each local government will have an official responsible for storing and registering rapid antigen test kits, which will be distributed to any preschool suffering an outbreak. Already, every school has a coronavirus officer responsible for storing and distributing tests to classes stung by an outbreak.

To expand Green Class, the Health Ministry recently purchased about 30 million rapid test kits to be distributed at 3,000 points throughout the country. Most of the tests have already landed in Israel and distribution began last week. This comes on top of the 500,000 test kits distributed in the pilot.

According to the program, when a student is found to have COVID, the other children in the class must undergo a rapid test. Anyone confirmed as infected is then sent for a PCR test.

Under current procedure, children who test negative by the rapid test are not required to quarantine during school hours, but must isolate at home for the rest of the time. If the pilot is confirmed successful, this restriction may be lifted.

According to the Health Ministry, about 77,000 children are currently in quarantine, of whom 11,200 are confirmed COVID carriers. The positivity rate for tests last week stood at 2.6 percent of around 37,000 tests.

At the beginning of the pilot program on October 3, the number of confirmed cases among school children stood at about 20,000.

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