As the United States and other countries anxiously consider how to reopen schools, Israel, one of the first countries to do so, illustrates the dangers of moving too precipitously.
Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May.
Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school, which quickly mushroomed into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, possibly the world.
The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives.
Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close. Across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined.
Israel’s advice for other countries?
“They definitely should not do what we have done,” said Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic. “It was a major failure.”
The lesson, experts say, is that even communities that have gotten the spread of the virus under control need to take strict precautions when reopening schools. Smaller classes, mask wearing, keeping desks six feet apart and providing adequate ventilation, they say, are likely to be crucial until a vaccine is available.
“If there is a low number of cases, there is an illusion that the disease is over,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, a professor of epidemiology at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health. “But it’s a complete illusion.”
“The mistake in Israel,” he said, “is that you can open the education system, but you have to do it gradually, with certain limits, and you have to do it in a very careful way.” [Continue reading…]