Increased testing shows positive cases are on the rise

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Zana Khattab who died of the coronavirus, in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza on September 22, 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

The Latest:

  • 422,310 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 387,672 recoveries; 4,248 deaths
  • Of Palestinians who tested positive, 231,719 live in the West Bank, 160,733 live in the Gaza Strip and 29,858 live in East Jerusalem
  • 1,254,351 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19; 1,180,403 recoveries; 7,611 deaths

While the rest of the world was seeing massive increases in coronavirus cases after the emergence of the more contagious delta variant, with its notorious “R naught” of six, at first Palestinian cases only trickled north on the graph. Reduced testing, depressed to about a half of what it was in early spring, masked a wider outbreak. But over the last month, when testing finally increased, so did the number of positive cases and deaths.

The World Health Organization reported in the first week of September there was an overall 55% increase in lab testing, and in Gaza, where the spread has been more severe, testing quadrupled over the last month. The positivity rate in Gaza is around 30%, one of the highest in the world. 

These increases are already being seen in hospitals that are once again edging closer to capacity. In the West Bank and Gaza, there are 72 patients in ICUs, 14 on ventilators, and another 205 being treated at COVID-19 wards. 

In the 24 hours period leading up to Thursday, September 23, (or, from the day before yesterday to yesterday) in the West Bank 549 tested positive and 1,534 tested positive in Gaza. 

Health officials announced new protocols that same day, instituting a mask mandate in most public buildings, taxis and buses, and stores. Universities and non-governmental organizations are encouraged to implement vaccine mandates. In classrooms where one student or a teacher tests positive, in-person learning will be temporarily paused. In instances where “a large number of infections are reported,” the ministry of health said it will shut down the school. 

Larger indoor gatherings are still allowed. Banquet halls are reduced to 50% and there are new capacity restrictions on mosques and churches. 

Palestinian medical workers inspect the COVID-19 intensive care unit at European Gaza Hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 20 September 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Palestinian medical workers inspect the COVID-19 intensive care unit at European Gaza Hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 20 September 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Vaccines paused in Gaza

Over recent weeks health officials have stepped up campaigns to urge the public to get vaccinated, navigating deep vaccine hesitancy. That seems to be making headway. The Ministry of Health said yesterday 54.3% of those eligible for vaccines had received at least one jab in the West Bank, and 31.4% in Gaza. 

“A dedicated vaccination drive in the Gaza Strip has seen more vaccine uptake in the last two weeks than in the entire six-month period before that when vaccinations first started,” the WHO reported last week. 

Because of the increase, vaccine mandates for government employees and high schoolers were paused last week. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, older Palestinians and those with preconditions are now eligible for a booster shot–although we’ve yet to see any data on how frequently third doses have been administered.

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