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Israel’s Ministry of Health has decided that starting either Sunday or Monday next week, there will be no obligation to wear a face mask outdoors.

The decision comes one year and a day after the mandate to wear a mask both indoors and out came into force.

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That is the good news.

The other news is that one must still wear a mask in enclosed spaces, at least for now.

The ministry agreed with researchers who said there is no epidemiological and/or health justification for wearing a mask in open areas.

100+ Cities with No New Cases of COVID-19
There have been no new cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in 112 cities in the Jewish State over the past week.

Among the cities on the “no COVID” list are Kiryat Shmona, Kiryat Ono, Yeruham, Mazkeret Batya, Tirat Carmel, Rosh Pina, Azor and others.

In Jerusalem, there are currently only 536 patients infected with the virus; in Tel Aviv, just 172 active cases, in Be’er Sheva only 93 active cases, in Haifa just 80, Rishon Lezion with 34, Netanya with 74, Ashdod with 81, Petach Tikva with 72, Hadera has 16 and in Modi’in there are fewer than 15 active cases.

Good News for Students (and Parents!)
There was also good news for schoolchildren: the Health Ministry has approved the complete opening of the education system as well.

“Capsules” are being eliminated and all classrooms are to be open; a wide system of COVID-19 testing and monitoring is to be implemented to quickly identify any student who may be infected.

In the event that a student is confirmed to have the virus, all his fellow students in the class, and the teaching staff will also undergo quarantine and testing to ensure no one else comes up positive for COVID-19, before returning to the classroom.

The families of those found to be infected with the virus will also be required to undergo testing.

Of the country’s 5,200 schools, none are closed due to the coronavirus at this point.

Now, Damage Control Begins
The return to school also brings with it the necessity to begin damage control among the nation’s youth.

There has been a 30 percent decrease in basic skills among first and third-grade students, according to a report by Israel’s N12 television news station. There has also been a 25 percent decline in math and language literacy among fourth and sixth graders, and a gap of about 30 percent among students in grades 7 to 10 in math, English and science.

There has also been a serious impact on the children’s emotional-social health: one out of every three students reports feeling emotional distress.

There is a 25 percent increase in suicide risk assessments by the education system’s psychological service and about 60 percent of education counselors say their students are reporting feelings of loneliness.

Moreover, due to the need for remote learning, there has been 30 percent dropout by students who no longer learn on a regular basis.

There has also been a significant increase in risk behaviors, addictions and violence, as well as a rise in reports of eating and obesity disorders, anxiety and mood disorders among children and adolescents.

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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.