Technician checks COVID-19 tests
Technician checks COVID-19 testsFlash 90

The Health Ministry responded to a query by Arutz Sheva to clarify information about COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, tests administered in Israel, and their methodology, accuracy, and availability.

Arutz Sheva's query quoted White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx, who said that while some countries report coronavirus fatality numbers differently, in the United States one is counted as a victim of the pandemic if he dies while testing positive for the virus, even if something else caused his death. Likewise, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike was quoted, who stated in a press conference that even if the cause of death is clearly something else, as long as one tests positive for COVID-19 when he dies, it does not matter how many other conditions were present, this is the cause of death:

Arutz Sheva sought to determine into which set of countries does Israel fall. How precisely do doctors record cause of death, has the procedure been uniform from the beginning of the crisis, and if Israel follows the American model, the Ministry was asked to expand on the medical and legal aspects of such classification.

The query also sought to determine which COVID-19 tests are being administered in Israel, recalling that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged it was conflating results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing citizens and policymakers with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic.

Arutz Sheva asked whether the test or tests used in Israel distinguish between a dead or live virus, and if not, why all of them are called "active cases", and, whether recommendations to policymakers take these distinctions into account.

The Health Ministry was asked to comment on false positive fiascoes reported in other countries, and to explain the Health Ministry’s method for factoring in possible inaccuracies.

Regarding mitigation restrictions, the Health Ministry was asked to comment on statements by the World Health Organization’s Maria Van Kerkhove: "From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual. We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They're following asymptomatic cases, they're following contacts and they're not finding secondary transmission onward. It is very rare -- and much of that is not published in the literature. We are constantly looking at this data and we're trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward." The Health Ministry was asked how Israel’s mitigation policy flows from the assumption that asymptomatic spread is “rare”.

Finally, Arutz Sheva asked about Health Ministry policy that, according to physicians consulted by Arutz Sheva for the purpose of the query, mandates refraining from treating cases early on, waiting until they are short of breath and need to be hospitalized and perhaps need to go straight to the intensive care unit. This, despite the fact that there are "several therapies that are available to outpatients that have been shown to be effective, such as hydroxychloroquine and budesonide inhalations. These therapies have had dramatic results and are reliably safe according to many reputable practitioners. Why aren’t outpatient cases being treated, why are only hospitalized cases being treated?"

Health Ministry Spokesman Eyal Basson answered: "In regard to your first question, the cause of death for anyone is Israel is determined by the practitioner in charge according to the WHO guidelines.

"Therefore any COVID-19 positive patient who has died during his hospitalization will likely be reported as COVID-19 death.

"Furthermore, we instructed our hospital administrators to report the death of COVID-19 patient who has recovered virologically but not clinically if the practitioner persevere that the death is related to late COVID-19 complications."

Regarding the last question regarding therapies shown to be effective such as hydroxychloroquine and budesonide inhalations, the Health Ministry answered: "The Israeli Health Ministry does not dictate any policy regarding medical treatment neither for outpatients in the community nor for patients admitted to hospitals.

"Each and every medical doctor who is treating patients has a professional autonomy that may be guided by his supervisors or organization but until now the Ministry kept its role as a regulator and did not interfere in any clinical issues regarding individual treatments.

"The paramount goal of the medical care and follow up for the outpatient is to identify as soon as possible symptoms and signs that should indicate the need to refer for a comprehensive medical examination in the emergency department and consider hospital admission."

Dr. David Matar, MD, responded to the Health Ministry's answer, telling Arutz Sheva: "Hydroxychloroquine is completely safe, and 54 studies of varying quality show its efficacy in prophylaxis and therapy of early disease. What needs to be done to break this epidemic is mass distribution of doses of hydroxychloroquine and zinc to as many as possible as prophylaxis to protect vulnerable people and interrupt the chain of transmission."

Matar continued: "Any medical doctor can write a private prescription for hydroxychloroquine and zinc; both are not expensive. However, the Health Ministry does not permit subsidized prescriptions for these drugs as treatment for COVID-19 - only for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or malaria prophylaxis.

"The situation here is better than in the United States, where in some anti-Trump areas, pharmacies will not honor even private prescriptions. The FDA at one point permitted hydroxychloroquine off-label, then revoked it due to political pressure and some bad (fake) studies."

Former Health Ministry Director Yoram Lass responded to the Health Ministry and told Arutz Sheva: "Regarding he coronavirus death toll: The British Health Minister admits that the Government's publications on those 'dead from coronavirus' were completely incorrect.

"And us? The Health Minister in the Israeli government continues to disseminate 'mortality due to coronavirus' data, which is completely erroneous. There is no 'excess mortality' in Israel. No plague. As a rule, the 'dead because of coronavirus' did not die from coronavirus."

Health Ministry, Jerusalem
Health Ministry, JerusalemFlash 90