Israel has been experiencing wave after wave of Coronavirus cases and recently, unfortunately, has had one of the highest rates of infection per capita in the world.
Back in May, after two months of lockdown, Israel began opening schools again, with the belief that the virus had been brought under control. But that confidence was premature, as shortly thereafter the number of cases increased.
Israel then experienced an unexpected spike in cases since August, and then September. There has been strong speculation that the spike was spurred by the reopening of schools, and the renewal of large gatherings, where attendees did not wear masks or keep socially distant, as was required.
In an effort to flatten the curve, Israel extended its lockdown rules in the beginning of October. At that time, they had already experienced a record number of 8,900 daily reported cases. There have been about a quarter-million cases total, with roughly 1,600 people having succumbed to the pandemic there.
In addition, as of late October, Israelis were restricted from leaving their homes, allowed to travel only 500 meters (a little over a quarter of a mile) from their doorsteps, without a specifically approved reason, such as going to buy groceries or for medical appointments. Only necessary workers (such as health care workers or employees at “necessary” businesses, such as grocery stores or gas stations) were allowed to travel to their places of employment. Public transportation was greatly curtailed.
Israeli Medical Expert, Dr. Ofer Merin
Dr. Ofer Merin is one of Israel’s most esteemed medical professionals and was recently appointed Director General of Shaare Zedek Medical Center. He is also chief of trauma services at the hospital. Dr. Merin headed the distinguished IDF mobile field hospital for the past 15 years, which has traveled around the world to treat casualties and save lives in many mass-casualty situations.
In his work with the IDF mobile field hospital, Dr. Merin’s team assisted with emergency relief during Haiti’s 2009 earthquake and natural disasters in Nepal, the Philippines, and Japan.
Dr. Merin is also a top-tier heart surgeon, an expert on emergency medicine, and a World Health Organization mentor for field hospitals.
He also has a strong connection to our community. Dr. Merin’s mother, whose maiden name was Rachel Sutton, and her mother, whose last name was Massry, are all of Syrian descent. Dr. Merin’s grandmother was six years old when she moved to Israel from Aleppo. Some of Dr. Merin’s Brooklyn relatives include Joe Cattan, Jessie Salem, Shirley Hanan, the Dweck family, Gloria and Albert Sasson, Joseph Sasson, and Jack Sutton.
Community Magazine spoke to Dr. Merin to get a better sense of how our beloved Israel is coping with the virus at this difficult time.
CM: What kinds of protocols did Shaare Zedek put into place to cope with the infection?
Merin: Ever since we received our first Corona patients in early 2020, we have been focused on being prepared for additional patients and waves. This has involved opening additional departments as necessary and we are continuing to do so as the situation mandates.
The hospital closely follows and coordinates treatment in line with recommendations from Israeli and international healthcare partners, as well as findings from our own experiences with patient care.
CM: How did your IDF training prepare you for crises such as this? Related to this, how did your rescue work in places like Japan, Haiti, Nepal, and Syria prepare you for a current crisis such as this, at home?
Merin: The most important insight from the army is to be several steps ahead. That means that when your hospital is nearing capacity, you are already making sure that the next unit is being readied for patients. Always be expecting the unexpected, and then you can be that much better prepared for whatever might come your way.
CM: Can you speak to how your makeshift Corona ward was built, and is in flux?
Merin: Until now, our Corona wards have been renovated from existing medical departments, but in the coming weeks we will be opening an all-new Corona ward, with nearly 60 additional beds, that has been designed and built from the beginning to serve Corona patients.
We have had temporary units that are allocated for Corona patients when the demand necessitates it and are closed when there is no longer a demand.
CM: Can you describe what the hospital is doing to protect patients and staff?
Merin: The safety of our staff has always been a foremost priority and we have invested very heavily in purchasing protective equipment and properly insulating the medical units that serve our Corona patients.
CM: How does the hospital balance the “humanity” of the situation?
Merin: The photos [of the doctors’ faces] on the scrubs is a welcome way for caregivers to forge that bond with the patients, that is taken away by limited contact and being behind the protective equipment. It’s an effort that helps patients feel more at ease in these difficult circumstances.
Shaare Zedek has always thrived on placing compassion as a priority, alongside advanced medicine. With Corona, the greatest challenge is how patients are separated from loved ones and how it can be very disorienting for patients – many of whom are older and may have memory and comprehension issues — to be treated by staff in full protective gear. Our goal is to do everything possible to alleviate those concerns and give patients and family members the understanding that we are caring for both their medical and emotional needs.
CM: Where do you notice there is public laxity on Coronavirus prevention?
Merin: While there are always segments of any population that are unfortunately less compliant with regulations, we strongly encourage all people to continue to embrace social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing.
We know that defeating this virus will only be possible if the public abides by the restrictions and respects the need for social distancing and mask wearing.
CM: Is the hospital trying anything new now to help patients recover?
Merin: We are constantly learning new things about this virus and we are definitely in a far better place now than we were six months ago. This includes embracing new methods of treatment in how we position patients in their beds as well as use of specific medicines and therapies.