Israeli hospitals are starting to close some of their coronavirus wards and return the staff to their usual wards, given the recent decline in the number of new cases.
However, they remain ready to reopen the special wards if necessary.
Elective procedures, which were put on hold after the coronavirus crisis began, are slated to resume after Wednesday’s Independence Day holiday.
Since the coronavirus outbreak began, dozens of dedicated coronavirus wards have opened at more than 20 hospitals. They have been staffed mainly by internists, infectious disease specialists and emergency room personnel, with some additional personnel from other wards.
But the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization has declined, standing at 403 on Sunday. Of these, 132 were in serious condition, 93 in moderate condition and 178 in mild condition.
The closure of some coronavirus wards isn’t an official Health Ministry policy, but rather the initiative of individual hospitals.
When the crisis began, Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva was designated a dedicated coronavirus hospital and all its other activities were canceled. The hospital set up five coronavirus wards with 200 beds along with a coronavirus intensive care unit.
But even at the height of the crisis, it had only 63 coronavirus patients, including 12 in intensive care. And on Sunday, it had just 23, of whom five were in intensive care.
The hospital therefore plans to resume normal operations in the coming days. It will retain just one coronavirus ward plus the dedicated ICU.
Though Hasharon was the only hospital devoted solely to coronavirus patients, many others had coronavirus wards.
Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer was the first Israeli hospital to admit coronavirus patients – Israeli tourists from the cruise ship Diamond Princess. It set up a special isolation unit for them, and at its height this unit was manned by the staff of four of the hospital’s seven internal medicine wards.
As of Sunday, however, it had only 83 coronavirus patients. It plans to close one of its coronavirus wards in the coming days and reopen another internal medicine ward.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which absorbed many of the city’s ultra-Orthodox coronavirus patients, opened five coronavirus wards.
But it had only 51 such patients as of Sunday, and meanwhile, it said, there has been a rise in the number of patients needing treatment for other problems.
It therefore announced on Sunday that two of its coronavirus wards would be closed.
“It’s important to stress that our emergency rooms and clinics are completely safe, so anyone who needs medical treatment shouldn’t hesitate, but should come immediately,” said the hospital’s director, Prof. Ofer Marin. “Don’t risk your lives, come for medical treatment.”
Another Jerusalem hospital, Hadassah’s Ein Karem campus, had three coronavirus wards and two coronavirus ICUs, but recently closed two wards. It currently has just 38 coronavirus patients, of whom 17 are in serious condition. Hospital officials said it is now admitting only two to four coronavirus patients a day, down from a peak of 10 to 15 a day.
Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, which currently has 26 coronavirus patients, has closed its ward for mildly ill patients, leaving it with three coronavirus wards. Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, with 22 patients, has closed one of its three coronavirus wards and converted it back into an internal medicine ward. Shamir Medical Center (formerly Assaf Harofeh), with just 11 coronavirus patients, also closed one of its three coronavirus wards.
Though many medical experts think that based on the latest data, Israel has passed the peak of the coronavirus crisis, the Health Ministry remains concerned that there could be a resurgence in cases as the lockdown restrictions are eased.
Nevertheless, it also understands that the longer normal hospital service is shut down, the greater the cumulative damage will be – both to patients and to the health care system as a whole.
Consequently, it announced over the weekend that elective procedures could resume on a limited basis as of May 3, assuming the decline in incidence of the virus continues, though such activity will still be restricted to 60 percent of normal levels. But it also wants the health care system to maintain a high state of readiness should the number of new cases start climbing again.
Header: The Israel Health Ministry’s HaMagen application running on an iPhone. (Sam Sokol)