Health Ministry finds children more likely to catch COVID-19 than adults

Ministry warns: 'Reopening schools may accelerate virus spread.' Doctors tell Arutz Sheva findings are 'manipulative and erroneous'

Mordechai Sones ,

Kindergarten children
Kindergarten children
Flash 90

A Health Ministry study published Wednesday found young people more likely to catch or spread COVID-19. On the basis of these conclusions, the Ministry warned that sending children back to schools at a time of high COVID-19 morbidity “may accelerate the spread of the virus.”

The study says eight percent of the 678,000 COVID-19 tests conducted on children under age 17 between January 27 to September 24 returned positive. This was 2% higher than the rate from some 2.6 million tests conducted on adults during that same period, reported the Times of Israel.

"Serological tests, which look for antibodies to determine if someone ever had the virus, were even starker, showing a 7.1% positive rate among children, compared to a 1.7%-4.8% rate among adults from June 28 to September 14, wrote TOI.

The Health Ministry report says: “Children are definitely contracting the virus and contagious as well. Since most of them do not show symptoms, it is difficult to identify a significant proportion of them who carry the virus and they may be a source of infection for others,” adding that return to schools, “especially at a time of widespread morbidity, may accelerate the spread of the virus, both throughout different age groups and throughout different geographical areas.”

The report recommended “gradually” reopening the education system, based on morbidity levels in different age groups and geographical areas.

However, some experts questioned the Health Ministry's methodology and conclusions. Dr. Uri Gavish, physicist, expert in algorithms and models inspection, and a consultant in the field of biomedicine, told Arutz Sheva that while children do transmit to adults, the contagion is "less or much less than adults to adults,", calling the Health Ministry report "manipulative and erroneous".

"The Health Ministry once again proved that it has become harmful to Israeli children," Gavish said. "In a report published by the Ministry today, it was claimed that the percentage of positives in 'children' tested is 8.5%, which is a higher value than the average in the rest of the population.

"From this the Ministry concludes there is an impediment to a full return to routine in educational institutions. The Health Ministry is wrong and misleading: It turns out that the Health Ministry's definition of 'children' also includes 16-year-old high school students and 17-year-old yeshiva students. Why were the data of 12-17 year-olds mixed with the lower age group?

"Until age 9, the percentage of positives is 6%, that is, no greater than in adults.

"Keep in mind that the percentage of positives in children is always biased upwards because parents take children for examination mainly on the basis of symptoms.

"Also, most children don't go to kindergarten with a smartphone, so they do not receive unnecessary self-isolation orders, and in particular are sent less for unnecessary tests."

Citing Health Ministry charts, Gavish says: "As you see, they lump ages 0-11, which have totally different transmission profile, with ages 12-17 which include high school students and Yeshivot":

Infection comparison according to age
Health Ministry

Family doctor, consultant, internal medicine and medical administration expert, and lecturer Yoav Yehezkeli responded to the Health Ministry report on his Facebook page, writing: "The conclusion of the Health Ministry report on the infection of children is that children are infected and contagious and that their presence in the educational frameworks may speed up the spread of morbidities.

Yehezkeli is a lecturer in the Emergency and Disaster Management Program at Tel Aviv University, is one of the founders of the epidemic treatment team, is a district physician, and former district director of health funds.

"A review of the report data brings me to the completely opposite conclusion: Children get infected and transmit less, and there's no reason not to open the schools immediately until fourth grade," he wrote.

"This isn't the first time that the link between the data and conclusions in Health Ministry reports is unclear, and the timing of advertising was chosen to serve a certain policy line.

"And know this: Based on this report, the Cabinet's decision was made yesterday to postpone opening the schools. And based on the 'professional' letter of the Health Ministry Director, which isn't worth the paper it's written on, a month ago the government took a decision to ban demonstrations.

"With their pressure, the Health Ministry of Health shoots the politicians in the professional and ethical foot it stands on.

"The Health Ministry ought to serve as a benchmark for the entire health system for seriousness and reliability of opinion, research, and reports," concluded Dr. Yehezkeli.

Hadassa Medical Center also released a response to the Health Ministry report, saying the report erroneously treats the age groups homogeneously, that the syrological findings are not relevant in children, and deplores the fact that the report stresses reasons not to return school studies, but ignores the reasons to return as delineated by children's health experts and the World Health Organization.

Hadassa response to Health Ministry report
Hadassa Medical Center