As Israeli children return to school (again), will COVID cause chaos?
As Israeli parents greeted their children on Thursday with the school reopening after the holidays, most had the same thought: will the school stay open, or will COVID quickly disrupt the year? school?
The children have been on vacation for much of September, ending with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and are now returning after two weeks of declining virus counts – both new daily cases and active cases in the ‘together.
There are just under 50,000 Israelis currently confirmed to be infected, up from more than 80,000 two weeks ago. New daily cases are around 3,500, based on a three-day average. That’s less than half the number as of mid-September.
But experts are divided on whether the nation can assume the fourth wave is on the decline, paving the way for uninterrupted school days, or should instead brace for possible new peaks.
New outbreaks could result in children constantly in quarantine, which is currently mandatory after every contact between an unvaccinated person and a carrier – which means a third consecutive school year interrupted by the pandemic.
“Our analysis indicates that things are indeed going down, and indicators show that there is a real decline in the current wave,” chief coronavirus statistician Nadav Katz, a member of an interdisciplinary team of analysts from the Hebrew University.
“The statistics show us that the drop is real and doesn’t just reflect a lack of testing or some other factor that skews the picture,” he said.
He predicted that the education system will be able to function well and that despite the fact that the quarantine rules are still in force, there will not be a large number of isolated children. “We expect schools to remain open,” Katz said. “And the current trend is that there will be fewer children in quarantine, because things are on a downward spiral.”
But immunologist Professor Tomer Hertz of Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva is more pessimistic, saying high numbers of cases and quarantines could lead to many children ending up home and causing major disruptions. of the school year.
“It’s safe to say that there are going to be a lot of children infected, and I don’t think COVID is going to decline quickly,” he told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
Hertz suggested the government was short-sighted, saying it “appears to be placing all of its bets on booster vaccines without supporting other strategies.” He maintains there is still a significant risk of spread and says limits should be placed on large gatherings like weddings and concerts where many people can be infected at once.
The government’s insistence on protecting the economy by avoiding further restrictions may not match, he said.
“They think everything is open and the economy can work, but if there are massive school quarantines it just isn’t right because it can actually become a kind of partial lockdown,” because many parents will not be able to go to work with their children at home, Hertz said.
Hertz said it was a good move by the government to require home COVID antigen tests to be administered to every student under the age of 12 on Wednesday in an effort to identify positive cases before they return to school. school. However, he believes much more comprehensive testing programs are needed in schools on an ongoing basis.
He thinks there is too much confusion around school policy, for example, on the quarantine issue: the government is discussing the elimination of automatic quarantine and instead repeatedly testing students who have been exposed to COVID while allowing them to go to school. Some parents and teachers feel that this has already become general policy, but it is not. At the moment, this is only a small-scale pilot program in 300 classrooms, and some in the medical community are skeptical that it will become policy.
“We don’t know what the strategy is for the education system,” Hertz said. “All the things to do with the 40s and the kids are up in the air and the teachers are confused, not knowing who to do.
“To add to a complicated picture in the country, severe cases are declining, but not as quickly as expected, and the Food and Drug Administration’s decision not to give recalls to everyone in the United States is completely misunderstood by many. many Israelis, and is used as a justification by some who do not want to be vaccinated.
Katz acknowledges that the number of critically ill patients is declining more slowly than expected, but said this was more a reflection of the high virus levels a few weeks ago than it is today. Many of the serious patients are young and middle-aged unvaccinated people who have been severely affected by the virus and end up being hospitalized for a long time, he said.
He said the booster shots have major benefits and believes that even without additional screening, the home COVID tests parents have just performed on the children will help a smooth return to school.
“The test kits will create a slew of new cases over the next few days, due to the positive results, but this is useful in detecting and quarantining cases that go unrecognized, stopping the spread among children and helping going back to school, ”he said.