With the rapid increase of coronavirus cases in Israel, the Health Ministry official responsible for handling the outbreak in the country's retirement and assisted living facilities on Thursday urged families to refrain from visits to elderly relatives.
Prof. Nimrod Maimon, who heads the ministry's "Fathers and Mothers Shield" program that covers approximately 1,000 retirement homes and assisted living facilities, said that if families insist on visiting the elderly, those visits should be held outdoors and in adherence to social distancing guidelines.
"I know how difficult it is," Maimon told Ynet. "But we have witnessed some COVID-19 outbreaks in retirement homes recently and we must be vigilant."
The "Fathers and Mothers Shield" program was established by former health minister Yaakov Litzman to specifically monitor and respond to any outbreaks among the elderly in group homes, a sector that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
"Our statistics show we are succeeding in keeping the number of infections down among the elderly, but we are well aware that we would not be able to avoid any cases of COVID-19 in our residents," Maimon said.
He said that residential home caregivers are not isolated from the community, and although provided with personal protection equipment are required to work in close physical proximity with their patients and could potentially infect them with the virus.
"We conduct frequent testing in our facilities to locate and isolate any confirmed cases," Maimon said.
"We understand that we may have a symptomatic carrier transmitting the virus and are adamant that we must break the chain of transmission," he said.
Maimon said he realizes than his advice cannot be compulsory, but called for people to act with consideration.
"We will be living with the virus for at least a year and cannot force the population to stay away from loved ones for so long, but we can and do urge an abundance of caution," he said.
The Health Ministry confirmed 94 new COVID-19 cases were identified Thursday as daily infections near the 1,000 mark.
A 60-year-old woman who was suffering from underlying health concerns passed away on Thursday morning, bringing Israel's death toll from the virus to 324.