It's Time for Israel to Beef Up Coronavirus Testing Centers

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Israelis queue to get tested for COVID-19 at a testing center in Tel Aviv, last month.
Israelis queue to get tested for COVID-19 at a testing center in Tel Aviv, last month.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

The coronavirus testing system wasn’t ready for the enormous demand during Rosh Hashanah, and many Israelis had to wait in line for hours for a test. Previously, in August, the testing system wasn’t ready for the great demand triggered by the summer vacation. Parents reported long lines of dozens of cars, and had to wait up to several hours before entering a testing compound.

When entry into most public and private institutions – including museums, libraries, culture and sports events, swimming pools and hotels, the very places that parents and children tend to visit during the holidays – requires presenting proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative coronavirus test, the heavy demand was predictable. The system should have prepared accordingly. The heavy demand once school started was also predictable. That’s what happens when every student diagnosed with the virus drags an entire class in to being tested. On Monday alone, more than 90,000 tests were performed in the school system.

Today, there are two types of testing – PCR tests, which are done by the Home Front Command and the health maintenance organizations, and rapid antigen tests, which are done by Magen David Adom and two hospital corporations, Ichilov Well and Sheba Target (which were chosen by tender). Problems arise when there are so many different parties conducting testing. On the first day the rapid tests were administered, for instance, the lines were so long that the Health Ministry asked MDA to open more testing stations in the center of the country, where another organization (Ichilov Well) was supposed to be handling tests.

Some of the Home Front Command’s testing centers cut their hours during the holiday, which created even longer waits at other centers. The lines at the testing centers continued throughout the holiday.

On Sunday, the Knesset Constitution Committee held an urgent discussion about the coronavirus testing system in advance of Yom Kippur – during which most testing centers will close early and test results will be valid for longer than usual – and Sukkot.

Prof. Salman Zarka, the coronavirus czar, said the long lines at testing centers stemmed from “a change in policy on opening the school year and the holiday. The process created additional demand for the testing system, one of the side effects of mass antigen testing.”

To reduce the demand created by students, it’s worth considering setting up dedicated testing centers in the schools. And in any case, existing centers should be beefed up to meet the need to test tens of thousands of students every day. The heightened demand expected during the intermediate days of Sukkot, as well as after the holidays when everyone returns to a routine, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The system must prepare accordingly. It’s run out of excuses.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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