Israel Third in World for Rate of Coronavirus Tests, U.S. Last

Israel has one of the highest coronavirus testing rates in the world, according to the data website Worldometer. So far in Israel 3,451 coronavirus tests have been administered, which, relative to population numbers, comes to 383 tests per million people.

According to Worldometer, updated to last Monday, South Korea has administered the most tests – 2,138 tests per million; next is Italy with 386 tests per million, followed by Israel at 383 and then Austria with 235. Last on the list is the United States, with only one test per million inhabitants as of last Monday.

The test for the coronavirus (PCR) is based on a marker that targets a piece of DNA, latches on to it and amplifies it in a manner that allows the virus to be identified in a sample. In Israel the production of test kits has been ramped up over the past two weeks. Until then, only one lab was processing the tests, the Health Ministry’s central laboratory at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

On Thursday, tests began to be processed at Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva and last week Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem began processing the tests. The Palestinian Authority is processing its own tests, and every positive test is sent to Israel for confirmation.

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As of now, some 400 tests are being administered daily in Israel, with results ready in between 24 to 36 hours, but the Health Ministry wants to expand testing capability to thousands per day and shorten waiting time for the result. The ministry is also planning to certify several more labs to process the tests in the near future. Each test costs about 50 shekels ($14.30).

The criteria for testing have changed a number of times over the past few weeks. They now include a combination of a clinical symptom (fever, cough, etc.) and an epidemiological category – close contact with a sick person or return from one of the countries listed by the Health Ministry. Another criterion is a patient hospitalized with an unexplained respiratory condition.

However, the Health Ministry says that people can consult a doctor in one of the ministry’s offices and receive authorization to be tested in cases that don’t fit the criteria. The Health Ministry has been changing the criteria in keeping with developments in the disease.

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The ministry is also preparing for the possible next stage of the epidemic, in which there would be many more new cases daily. Under such circumstances tests would not be administered to every patient suspected of having the virus, but, as is done with the flu, samples will be taken to understand the dynamics of the disease, and the seriously ill will be tested.