Israel and the Delta Variant: Lessons for US
In the July/August issue of Israel Matters, you were promised in-person reporting from Israel. Well, as you might have guessed, Covid had other plans in the form of an Israeli Delta Variant outbreak. So, in place of an in-person story, here is a one-person-removed accounting of what is going on in Israel.
To set the context, recall that in October 2020, all of us were isolated from each other and sad at the situation into which the pandemic had forced us. I decided to do something that always makes me happy and booked a trip to Israel, convincing my NYC friend Shari to join me. We made reservations for July 2021, at which time we assumed this mess would be over.
Obviously, we were wrong.
Because of an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases due to the extremely contagious Delta variant, the Israeli Ministry of Health decided not to allow tourists to enter the country in July as previously planned. At the time of this writing, no date has been announced for when tourists will again be allowed to visit.
My friend Shari, however, is an Israeli citizen, which meant that she was permitted to enter the country from the USA. Shari made the decision to go on the trip without me and with extreme caution: she got a PCR test 3 days before her flight as required (to prove she was COVID negative), packed her suitcase including over 50 masks and boarded the plane for an expected great trip to Israel.
Upon landing, Israel requires everyone to take an additional PCR test at the airport. After testing negative, Shari then had to take a blood test to prove she had COVID antibodies from the vaccine (or due to recovery from the virus). Pending the results of this test, Shari was put into mandatory isolation until the results of the tests indicated she had immunity and was not infectious. Three days later, she was out of isolation and her trip really began.
Shari remained careful, wearing masks in public and choosing to stay outdoors whenever possible. In Israel, that’s easy to do – nearly every home and many restaurants and venues have beautiful outdoor spaces to enjoy. After about a week, Shari went to an indoor event where admission was allowed only for those vaccinated. Shari felt it safe for the first time to remove her mask and smile as she greeted friends old and new.
A few days later, Shari began to feel sick, running a fever of 102 degrees and developing a bad cough. A test proved that she had contracted the COVID Delta variant at that event of fully vaccinated individuals. Even though Israel has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the Delta variant is being passed on even to vaccinated individuals.
In Israel, a person with a COVID diagnosis is required to isolate for at least 10 days, and isolation means the infected person is to have no contact with anyone. If you cannot isolate where you are living or staying, you are sent to an isolation hotel. In Shari’s case, her hotel and friends left food and whatever she needed at her door during her entire isolation period. At least four times, Israeli Health Ministry representatives checked on Shari to make sure she was in her isolated residence.
Shari’s symptoms began to improve on day 7, and by the end of her isolation period, she felt weak but knew the worst had passed. She saw a doctor who confirmed she was no longer contagious and told her about the necessary forms she had to complete in order to fly home. She needed to delay her return flight to obtain all the necessary documentation.
Israel’s take on public health is different than that of many countries – with public rights and freedoms secondary to the common good. What can we can learn from this story about Israel’s handling of this new, highly transmissible variant? Here’s what Israel has done:
• Implemented Ramzor (traffic light) warning system – a weekly index that is calculated by weighing the number of new Covid cases, the percentage of positive test results and the infection rate. Neighborhoods are labeled green, yellow, orange or red to indicate the level of risk and restrictions (from free movement to complete lockdown).
• Created and disseminated HaMagen (the shield) – a Ministry of Health app that notifies you if you have been in the presence of someone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19. The app cross-checks the GPS history of your mobile phone with historical geographic data of confirmed Covid patients.
• Created Tav Yarok (literally “green note”) system – those who have been vaccinated or have verified antibodies for Covid-19 can show their Tav Yarok to gain entry to public venues and events.
• Required masks in all public indoor locations.
• Made recommendation to limit casual hugging (a common custom among Israelis when they greet friends and family).
• Mandated limits on group size, particularly indoors.
• Required and enforced isolation for those exposed and/or testing positive for Covid (they even have an online “isolation calculator” to help you determine how long you must isolate).
• Strongly encouraged citizens not to travel abroad at all at this time (and have forbidden non-essential travel to and from “red” countries where Covid infection rates are high. The US is currently classified as a “red” country).
Although rates are high, particularly in parts of Israel and among certain segments of the population, infection rates are much higher in parts of the world that have not implemented such strict policies and mandates.
Israeli officials are particularly concerned about the risk of increased infections around the high holidays when family and religious gatherings are prevalent throughout the country. The Ministry of Health has taken an increasingly strong stand this summer to try to minimize the Delta outbreak so that the holidays can be observed as usual.
Let us hope and pray that in Israel and here in America, this latest outbreak will soon be behind us.
Eating like an Israeli
Moshe has been a family friend for 40 years. Anytime he’s visiting or entertaining at his apartment, he makes Shakshuka. Shakshuka makes a great breakfast or brunch, is healthy and vegetarian, and is an easy one-pan meal! Here’s the recipe we use:
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 1 diced medium yellow/Spanish onion
• 1 diced red pepper
• 2-4 finely chopped garlic cloves
• 2 tsp paprika
• 1 tsp cumin
• 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (Moshe uses fresh tomatoes)
• 6 large eggs
• salt and pepper, to taste
• ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
• Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add the chopped red pepper and onion and cook for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.
• Add garlic and spices and cook an additional minute.
• Pour the can of tomatoes and juice into the pan and break up the tomatoes using a large spoon. Season with salt and pepper and bring the sauce to a simmer.
• Make small wells in the sauce and crack the eggs into each well. Cover the pan and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking. (We like them cooked through, but it’s more common to just poach them.)
• Sprinkle chopped cilantro and parsley on top and enjoy – it’s traditional to serve it right from the skillet, and is delicious scooped with bites of pita (see June 2021 Israel Matters).