Many people around the world watched with admiration as Israel efficaciously contained COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic with a strict lockdown, one of the highest rates of testing in the world, and extensive contact tracing. Now, however, Israel is facing a record high in daily new cases, surpassing its numbers at the pandemic’s peak.
What happened? Israel lifted its lockdown, Prof. Yoram Weiss, director of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, told participants from 18 countries during a July 2 Hadassah International webinar organized by Hadassah Switzerland President Manno Saks.
“Israelis thought the problem was solved and felt they could return to their lives,” Prof. Weiss explained. He was quick to add that though Israel “lost control of the disease, it is now bringing it back under control.” Strict social distancing is being enforced once again.
Prof. Weiss explained that the situation is different this time. Though the number of cases has risen, there are fewer hospitalizations because it is mostly young people who are testing positive, having gone to the beach or returned to school. The more vulnerable are staying home and not contracting COVID-19. At the same time, Prof. Weiss noted that we have learned how to better treat COVID-19 patients. For example, he said, we know that non-invasive ventilation with high-flow oxygen is better at decreasing mortality than intubating patients and putting them on a ventilator. “If you keep people breathing on their own,” he said, “their outcome may be better.”
It’s also helpful, Prof. Weiss related, that because the curve has been flattened, intensive care units are not overloaded now. Different drugs are proving to reduce mortality in different people as they address the myriad of medical complications caused by COVID-19.
In the aftermath of a bout of COVID-19, Prof. Weiss reported, a number of patients are exhibiting residual medical and psychological problems. Some, he said, experience severe weakness in their muscles or vascular problems like a stroke. Some people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. When asked if he believes that COVID-19 patients can relapse, Prof. Weiss noted that the possibility exists, but we have no data to substantiate that assumption.
Offering his advice for protecting ourselves against COVID-19, Prof. Weiss emphasized that “we have to adjust our living to adapt to the virus.” He urged people to wear masks because “we’ve learned the hard way that some people who contract the virus have a high viral load and become super-spreaders. Masks are important to stop super-spreaders from infecting others.”
The coronavirus, Prof. Weiss said, “is a primitive viral form that found a loophole in the immune system of the human body.” While allowing for the possibility that the coronavirus, like the SARS virus, could disappear as suddenly as it appeared, Prof. Weiss also advised everyone to get the flu vaccine, especially those who are elderly and/or have underlying health issues. “COVID-19 combined with the flu is a deadly combination,” he cautioned.
This webinar is part of the Hadassah International Summer Summit 2020 “Health Talks with Hadassah Experts.”