Over a three-decade military career, Israeli Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin has led commando raids, fought in wars and even earned a degree at Harvard. But he has never seen anything quite like his latest mission.
As head of the Israeli army’s Home Front Command, Gordin is now overseeing the military’s coronavirus “task force,” formed last month to bring one of the developed world’s worst outbreaks under control. Its main responsibility is taking the lead in contact tracing and breaking chains of infection.
“This is an operation on a different scale,” Gordin told The Associated Press.
For months, the command has been managing a network of coronavirus hotels, providing both isolation facilities and recovery services for infected people with mild symptoms. Its soldiers have also distributed food and supplies in hard-hit areas.
Gordin said public trust in the military is perhaps his most important asset. He said the army’s experience in emergency management and its bottomless pool of manpower also are key strengths.
Working under the direction of the Health Ministry, his task force acts largely as a coordinator and support body for civilian authorities in four key areas: expanding the number of tests; working with labs to speed up the results; interviewing those who are infected to identify who has been in contact with them; and quickly placing those at risk into quarantine.
It is also working closely with municipalities, other government ministries, medical rescue services, police and public and private labs to help streamline the national response.
At the Home Front Command’s headquarters in central Israel, the task force has already set up a situation room. On a recent day, masked military officials sat alongside officials from the Health Ministry and other government ministries, representatives of municipalities and health-care providers, plotting strategies as they analyzed data on large screens.
Upstairs was the “hotel unit,” where workers keep tabs on the thousands of people staying in the 25 facilities the force is managing. In nearby military tents, dozens of uniformed soldiers sat in front of computer screens, interviewing newly infected patients to retrace their steps and contacts. The contact-tracing data is fed in real time to the Health Ministry.
Given Israel’s relatively small size of just 9 million people, the new task force appears to be among the world’s most ambitious efforts. It already has enlisted 2,300 soldiers and expects to soon hit 3,000, in addition to the many civilian local officials and medical professionals.
While the task force is still in its early stages, Gordin said it has already been able to increase the number of daily tests and shorten the time for receiving results. Soldiers have conducted almost 2,000 interviews.
“I think that by Nov. 1 we should be in control of the situation. That’s our desire,” he said.