Israel plans to start the school year with numerous regulations to combat the spread of COVID.
One of the first countries to mass-vaccinate against COVID, Israel is experiencing an increase in new “cases”, hospitalization, and deaths. Once referred to as the world’s laboratory for COVID vaccination and praised for its success, the current picture calls that into question.
New cases and hospitalizations from COVID are about where they were last February, at the beginning of the vaccination campaign. By the start of the new school year on the first of September, if cases keep climbing at the same rate, hospitalizations will reach the key 1,200 mark that initiated the previous lockdowns.
Government officials have proposed several initiatives to implement within the school system, assuming it actually opens in less than two weeks.
Masks will be mandatory for everyone starting in first grade. Using the army’s Homefront Command unit, the government will conduct serology tests to see which students have antibodies to COVID. Before the first day of school, parents will use a rapid COVID test for their children. Some schools will continue the “Education Shield” program that performs weekly PCR tests. After a public dispute between the Health and Education Ministries, the government decided to conduct mass vaccination for children during school hours.
Stressing the importance of vaccination, Health Minister Horowitz reportedly said “Creative solutions are fine, but only vaccinations will ensure the school year opens,” referring to the Government’s program of strongly encouraging youth to get vaccinated.
As part of that encouragement, the government has decided that classrooms of children, who are eligible to be vaccinated but are less than 70% vaccinated (or recovered), will learn remotely via zoom if located in a high-infection area.
To some, these policies are the wrong approach. For starters, COVID presents a very low risk of death to children, and it’s even less dangerous to kids than the seasonal flu according to studies reported in the prestigious Lancet medical publication. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia. Nor are children more likely to spread COVID to adults, as shown in a study that indicated teachers were at no greater risk than other professions to catch COVID even when schools were kept open in high infection periods.
With that in mind, it would seem odd to do any counter-COVID measures for children that go beyond the normal promotion of good hygiene.
The requirement that children need to cover their mouths and noses while at school is very unfortunate considering what is now known about the effectiveness of masks, and their potential dangers. While some might feel more comfortable with a mask on, the science does not support the claim that masks reduce the transmission of COVID, as demonstrated in over 47 studies. With children, even more than with adults, there are risks to mask-wearing. For example, one study published in JAMA Pediatrics demonstrated that after 3 minutes of being masked, carbon dioxide levels are 6 times higher than acceptable. CO2 levels increase as age decreases. The researchers conclude that “children should not be forced to wear masks”. Indeed in several jurisdictions, such as Texas, Florida, and Sweden mask mandates have been banned in schools.
The use of PCR tests is a controversy on its own. When it comes to mass-testing especially of people who have no symptoms, studies show that a positive PCR result, at the sensitivity currently being used, in no way means that person is infectious.
As the Health Minister noted, their main emphasis is vaccination. Vaccination of children between the ages of 12-18 has been going on for several months in Israel, despite objections from some 90 Israeli doctors, including the Council for the COVID Crisis, America’s Frontline Doctors, even one of the scientists responsible for the invention of the mRNA technology used in the vaccines voiced his objection. The concerns are based on the low risks of COVID to children, the high risk of adverse reactions, and the unknown long-term risks. Based on data from the U.K. reports of fatalities associated with COVID vaccines are 28 times more common than flu vaccines, and about 169 times more common than vaccines in general.
Many parents are trying to get the government to change its policies. The past few weekends saw protests of parents, and others, protesting current government policy. With little hope for change, some parents are considering homeschooling, while others are trying to establish parent-run private schools despite considerable obstacles. With less than two weeks to go before the start of the year, many are hoping the government reverses course and starts applying a more cautious, science-based approach to their policies.