Although the country is meant to roll out wide-scale serological testing for children in the general community by next week, not all needed contracts are signed, the tests have not arrived and the cost of the project is still unknown, according to a senior official in the Home Front Command who spoke during a closed briefing on Wednesday.
“By the end of the week we should have it more together,” the official said. “We are really moving fast. We are really organized. This is a very big and complicated operation.”
He said that the cost for the serological testing, which will be covered by the state, will include the cost for the rapid serological testing kits and the reservists who are being paid to use them. But “we don’t yet know the price.” Active-duty soldiers will also take part in the operation.
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The country is hoping to screen at least 70% of the 1.4 million eligible Israeli students between the ages of three and 12 for coronavirus antibodies, ideally in the next two weeks before school starts, although the senior official, who is overseeing the campaign on behalf of the IDF’s Alon Headquarters, said the campaign could last longer.
The goal of the operation is to find out how many students have had coronavirus but did not know and to provide them with Green Passes that will exempt them from isolation if one of their classmates tests positive for COVID-19 during the school year.
A woman shows her green passport at the Khan theater in Jerusalem on February 23, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Ilana Gens, the head of the Public Health Services Headquarters at the Health Ministry told the Knesset on Wednesday that these passes would last “indefinitely” and that they will also work as passes outside of school, meaning to enter any location or event where a Green Pass is required.
A preliminary serological testing operation began last week in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools, which open up on the first of the Hebrew month of Elul. So far, the official said, around 20% of students have tested positive for antibodies. Earlier in the day, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka, showed that around 16% had tested positive.
The Home Front Command official said the expectation is that around 15% of Israeli students in the general community will have antibodies.
The blood tests are taken by pricking the student’s finger. They are developed in a portable machine within 15 minutes. The tests do not show the level of antibodies, just whether or not the child has them.
The IDF is working closely with local authorities, setting up testing stations in schools and community centers depending on the needs of the community. Some 400 “staffing groups” are being convened, each with a manager, a medic and a sampler, among other roles.
“The goal is to be as broad as possible,” the official said, noting that the needs of Tel Aviv are different than those of Jisr e-Zarqa or Emek Hayarden. He added that if in the first week the teams see that staff is not being effectively used in one municipality because no one is turning out for whatever reason, and that in another there are long lines, then the staffing will be redistributed.
During the briefing, the official also discussed challenges that the Alon Headquarters is facing in carrying out epidemiological investigations.
In July, only about half of verified cases received an epidemiological inquiry, according to Gens.
The official admitted that it has been difficult for the command to recruit investigators because most Israelis have gone back to work or are generally busier than they were during previous waves when the country was under lockdown.
There are currently 1,134 active epidemiological investigators, he said, and there are plans to increase that number by about 800 in the next three weeks to accommodate the growing number of cases.
In the interim, the investigation teams are focusing on the highest risk population – running investigations into all patients 60 and older, staff who work at geriatric centers and anyone who returned from abroad.
He said some people are contacted “within hours,” but for others, it takes as much as 16 hours to begin their investigation.