Without Action, Israel Can Expect More Than 1,000 COVID Deaths for January

A quarter of the population got first of two COVID-19 inoculations, yet the death rate so far this month has reached a record high

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A relative holds the hand of a patient in a coronavirus ward in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, January 10, 2021.
A relative holds the hand of a patient in a coronavirus ward in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, January 10, 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The rate at which Israelis have been dying of the coronavirus reached a record high in January. Between January 1 and January 18 at least 607 Israelis died after becoming ill from the virus. Unless there is a major change in direction, the death toll for January alone is expected to exceed 1,000, surpassing October of last year, which up to now recorded the deadliest monthly toll with 960 deaths.

It’s been less than 10 months since Israel recorded its first COVID-19 death, on March 20, but the death toll has now surpassed 4,000. Over the past several weeks, there have been between 40 and 50 coronavirus deaths per day. Since the beginning of the outbreak, the average monthly death toll has exceeded 400, representing the equivalent of 11 percent of all of the monthly deaths prior to the pandemic.

The data coming out of the country’s hospitals shows little sign of a slowdown in the rate at which people are dying from the virus. Fully 1,130 of the 1,930 coronavirus patients in the hospital are currently in serious condition and 317 of them are in critical condition.

These are not the only numbers attracting health officials’ attention. In contrast to most of the period of the pandemic, there is a sense of greater loss in some respects now due to the knowledge that Israel’s inoculation program is well underway, and that Israel has vaccinated a greater proportion of its population than any other country in the world.

It’s been nearly a month since the vaccination campaign began and 24 percent of the public have received the first of two shots, while 3.5 percent have received the second dose as well. But the vaccinations have not yet driven down the number of deaths or the number of newly diagnosed patients. Health professionals and members of the public are anxiously waiting for signs of the vaccine’s impact.

Some may try to find some consolation in portraying the average patient who dies of the virus as an elderly person with a range of underlying medical conditions, and whose life expectancy was very short regardless of COVID-19. Apparently, however, of the fatalities so far in the pandemic in Israel, many would have been able to continue to live a considerable period of time with a high quality of life.

According to the Health Ministry, of the approximately 4,000 fatalities (4,005 as of Sunday), 19 were under 30 years old and 22 were between the ages of 30 and 39. There were 50 reported deaths in the 40-49 age range and 200 between the ages of 50 and 59. About an eighth of all the deaths, or 524 patients, were between 60 and 69 and 978 were between 70 and 79 years of age. About a third of the deaths, 1,349 people, were 80 to 89. There were 810 deaths among those 90 years of age or older.

Underlying medical conditions, which become more common as people age, are indeed a risk factor contributing to patients’ deterioration and, in a large proportion of cases, their deaths. Although some Israelis view that as a source of some relief, it is not necessarily justified. Underlying medical conditions do not constitute a death sentence.

There are millions of Israelis, some of whom are well along in years and some younger, who are leading long and full lives thanks to proper medication, medical supervision and medical innovation. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are present in nearly every extended Israeli family.

These illnesses have been shown to be more significant and critical in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Among the roughly 4,000 patients who have died of COVID-19, the Health Ministry reports that more than 1,300 of them suffered from high blood pressure. A quarter of them had diabetes and about 21 percent (about 820 patients) had heart disease.

Another eight percent had chronic lung disease and three percent had suppressed immune systems for various reasons, including organ transplant recipients and those with various diseases or who had undergone specific medical treatments. Many of those who have died of the virus had more than one underlying condition.

An analysis of the geographic distribution of those who died of the virus shows that Jerusalem had the largest number of deaths (550) followed by Tel Aviv (209), Haifa (164), Bnei Brak (157), Bat Yam (136), Ashdod (116), Petah Tikva (106), Holon (105), Rishon Letzion (101) and Netanya (96).

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