“If you don’t get vaccinated, you put yourself and your loved ones in danger, especially the elderly,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive through complex to check if they have been infected with the Coronavirus, in Modi'in, on July 21, 2021. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive through complex to check if they have been infected with the Coronavirus, in Modi’in, on July 21, 2021.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

The Education and Health ministries argued on Sunday over the outline for the upcoming school year as Israel registered more than 100 COVID-19 patients in serious condition for the first time since May.

According to the Education Ministry’s proposal unveiled on Sunday, widespread testing, including serological testing to verify if children already have antibodies against the coronavirus, will represent the key to containing infections and mass quarantines, as opposed to remote learning.

However, some of the points in the outline have not yet been finalized, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash responded in a press briefing.

The school year will open in a normal way for all ages, from preschool to high school, the Education Ministry said. Contrary to what happened last year, children are not going to be divided in capsules but will study with all their classmates, it said.

In addition, schools will function with in-person learning regardless of the color of their municipality.

In the past, schools in cities or neighborhoods classified as “red” or “orange” under the “traffic light” system devised by the Health Ministry would switch to remote learning. Individual schools would close only in case of widespread outbreaks among their students, pending a decision by the district authorities and local health authorities.

However, mass testing will be organized for schools in “red” areas and, when possible, also in “orange” areas.

In addition, the Education Ministry is proposing to create a special quarantine outline tailored for the education system. It requires the Education and Health ministries to run a pilot for an isolation period of 48 hours for students and teachers who are exposed to a coronavirus-positive patient but test negative.

Moreover, a widespread operation to carry out serological tests on schoolchildren to verify the presence of antibodies in their blood, allowing them to avoid quarantine in case of exposure, was proposed by the Education Ministry.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (Blue and White) and the ministry’s director-general, Yigal Slovik, stressed the importance of returning to in-person learning as a tool to strengthen children’s resilience and reduce the social and emotional damages caused by prolonged lockdowns and long periods of learning remotely.

Some of the elements presented by the ministry had not yet been finalized, Ash said during a press briefing later in the day.

Over the past few weeks, there reportedly have been tensions between Shasha-Biton and Health Ministry officials about the management of the education system regarding precautions related to the coronavirus.

“We are working together with the Education Ministry to formulate the plan to open the school year,” Ash said. “In the statement that was published, there are some points that are not yet closed that we need to clarify.”

“We will continue the dialogue process to reach an outline that will ensure the health of our children within the education system and the continuity of learning in the face of an increase in morbidity,” he added.

Later in the day, education and health officials convened to discuss the outline with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“We are here to hear the plans of the Education Ministry with the Health Ministry about how we can open the school year in a normal way,” Bennett said. “Our goal, as everyone knows, is not to hurt the economy, not to hurt education and not to hurt daily life.”

Shasha-Biton and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) argued during the meeting over different aspects of the plan, which will need to be approved by the coronavirus cabinet, according to reports.

There were 101 COVID-19 patients in serious condition on Sunday night, four more than in the morning and the most since May, the Health Ministry reported. There were 66 in serious condition last Sunday.

While the proportion of patients developing a serious form of the disease has been relatively limited so far, compared with the spike of new cases over the past few weeks, some health officials are expressing concern about the increase.

“The rate of increase in patients in serious condition is significant, similar to the rate of increase in new cases,” Ash told Radio 103 FM Sunday morning. “It is true that the percentage of patients is lower, but we are close to 100 patients, and it is starting to worry us.”

“When we reach several hundred patients, say around 400, it will be very worrisome and will definitely represent a redline requiring further steps… I very much hope we will not get there,” he said.

On Saturday, 967 new virus carriers were identified, compared with 1,433 on Friday, but with 54,316 tests processed (1.79% positive), compared with 86,819 (1.66%), respectively, the Health Ministry reported. In the first half of June, there were about 20 new cases a day.

Opening the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Bennett reiterated that Israelis who are eligible for the vaccine and who are not inoculated yet – more than one million – should do so.

“The scientific facts are clear: Those who get vaccinated get infected less; those who get vaccinated are less contagious,” he said. “If you don’t get vaccinated, you put yourself and your loved ones in danger, especially the elderly.”

As reported by The Jerusalem Post