Photo Credit: David Cohen / Flash 90.
Heads of religious communities in Israel get a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ziv Hospital in Tzfat, Dec. 24, 2020.

Israeli health officials announced late Wednesday night that medical personnel will begin to administer a third “booster” shot of COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Israel is the first nation in the world to legalize and encourage administration of a third dose of vaccine.

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The third jab is to be administered solely to citizens ages 60 and up, for now.

Hospitals Reopening Dedicated COVID-19 Units
Israeli hospitals, meanwhile, have begun to reopen their dedicated coronavirus wards in response to the continued rise of COVID-19 patients in serious and critical condition.

The units were closed just a few months ago, after hospitalizations and serious cases of the virus dropped to nearly zero. Last month there were only 19 serious cases of the virus in the entire country.

But in just one week there has been a 100 percent jump in the number of new cases diagnosed daily, and more concerning, there has been a doubling in the number of serious cases.

Israeli COVID-19 Daily New Cases Top 700: New Restrictions?

Fourteen days ago, the Health Ministry reported 730 newly diagnosed cases of the virus, including 46 patients listed in serious to critical condition. The positivity rate was 1.26 percent.

Six days ago, the ministry reported the diagnosis of 1,263 new COVID-19 cases, with 81 Israeli patients listed in serious condition including 23 in critical condition, and the positivity rate at 1.83 percent. The number of active coronavirus patients stood at 10,194, and the death toll had reached 6,457 since the start of the pandemic.

This past Sunday (July 25), there were 1,538 new cases of COVID-19 in the country, with the positivity rate reaching 2.08 percent – the highest reported since March at that point. By Monday evening 121 patients were listed in serious condition. One week earlier, there were 61 patients listed in serious condition.

On Wednesday (July 28, 2021) Israel’s Health Ministry reported the diagnosis of 2,267 new cases of the virus – double the rate a week ago — with 153 patients listed in serious condition, including 35 listed in critical condition. The positivity rate now stands at 2.36 percent – about 20 percent higher than it was just four days ago.

On the same day one year ago, health officials reported the diagnosis of 2,125 new cases, including 320 serious cases.

Hospitals Cite Exponential Rise in Cases
“Yesterday, we had 13 coronavirus patients in severe condition, and right now we have 21,” Rabin Medical Center Beilinson Campus Director-General Dr. Eitan Wertheim told The Jerusalem Post.

“Within one day that’s 50 percent more patients in severe condition,” he said.

Jerusalem’s Herzog Medical Center was asked by the Health Ministry to open a second coronavirus ward. But that unit is already nearly full, hospital chief Dr. Kobi Haviv told The Jerusalem Post.

Haviv said the hospital is seeing about 15 new COVID-19 patients a day. “We are in the second phase of a fourth wave,” Haviv said.

While the morbidity rate continues to skyrocket, Israeli officials squabble about how best to get the situation back under control.

School Vaccination, Brief Quarantine Debated
At a meeting this past Monday (July 26), Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton got into a debate about the measures to be implemented in the nation’s school system when classes reopen on September 1.

Report: PM, Education Minister Clash over Vaccinating Schoolchildren

Shasha-Biton opposes vaccinations in the schools – favored by the prime minister – because “the role of the education system is to education,” she was quoted as saying by Israel Hayom.

Health, Education Ministries Disagree on COVID-19 Guidelines, Morbidity Still Skyrocketing

The Education Ministry plan to reopen schools included a reduction in the quarantine period for students and teachers after exposure to a verified carrier – from the current 14 days to just 48 hours – if their PCR tests return with negative results.

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash shot that idea down fast.

“We do not approve of a quarantine of only 48 hours,” he told reporters at a briefing on Monday.

“A negative test and immediate return to school only serves to spread the virus and cause more cases,” Ash said.

Get a Test at the Local Gas Station?
Need a quick and convenient PCR test to document your COVID-19 negative status? Israelis still traveling abroad and who need a quick turnaround on results will soon be able to get it done at a select number of Sonol gas stations around the country.

The results will qualify for the airport, to win freedom from quarantine, or to enter a “Green Pass” event, hope is on the horizon.

Israel Resurrects COVID-19 Green Pass, BGI Airport Plans

The AID Genomics company has made a partnership deal with Sonol to allow Israelis to drive in, get swabbed and in just 24 hours, receive the results of their COVID-19 PCR test.

A negative result from that test will qualify for use at any border exit in the country.

The test, which will cost NIS 99 – about $30 – is expected to be available soon at Sonol stations in Jerusalem, Ramat Gan, Kfar Saba, Nahariya, Ashdod, Afula, Rishon Lezion and Netanya – with more locations to be added.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.