Expecting the numbers to stop surging by the third week of September, the health authorities launched a systematic sampling plan on September 1 in an attempt to survey at least 50 per cent of the urban population and 100 per cent of its rural population via monitoring led by ASHA workers.
The strategy focusses on surveying residents of the entire district in a door-to-door assessment. “We have planned that all 320 of our ASHA workers will survey each house and each person of their area especially the vulnerable groups for even mild symptoms including a basic cough or fever,” said Dr Saroj Aggarwal, Deputy Civil Surgeon at civil hospital, Panchkula.
All such persons presenting symptoms will be motivated to get themselves sampled at nearby dispensaries which remain functional each day of the week. The district administration had converted all its dispensaries and hospitals into sampling centres in the last week of August, to make sampling easy and accessible to all. The district now has as many as 19 government and two private sampling centres.
Each ASHA worker, approximately covers 30 houses or 100 people a day. “With as many as 320 ASHA workers conducting the survey since September 1, we have already covered 1.28 lakh of our 5.6 lakh population,” said Dr Aggarwal adding, “We expect cases to rise till the survey is over and see a gradual downfall soon after. We will easily be able to survey 100 per cent of our rural population within the next week. Cases should start coming down by the third week of September.”
Identifying cases at root
Deciding on taking the otherwise contested route of prioritising Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) over the traditional RT-PCR, the administration has drastically ramped up sampling in the district. While it had been collecting 500 samples a day on an average till August, the numbers have increased by more than double since the launch of the surveillance programme.
The district is now sampling about 1,300 persons a day. While it had conducted 33,000 tests by August 31, the total number now stands at 41,300. A further higher number of samples were collected within the first two days of the month. “We are collecting almost 1,000 samples a day in antigen tests, with almost 300 a day for RT-PCR,” said Dr Aggarwal. The positivity rate of antigen tests has remained between 15 to 20 per cent in the district, much higher than RT-PCR tests anywhere.
The district had decided to move on to antigen sampling in a bid to prevent Covid-19 related deaths. RAT gives quick results within half an hour. “With the increasing number of cases we deemed this strategy best. We are on a surge and cannot let deaths increase. We are sampling all high-risk groups irrespective of symptoms. If a person tests positive in an RAT test conducted at say 10 am, they can be isolated by 11 am. This is more than enough to prevent the delay which now makes the difference of life and death,” said Dr Aggarwal. Even on Friday, the district took as many as 968 RAT samples, of whom 168 tested positive.
Meanwhile RT-PCR tests are conducted on contacts of positive persons and anyone showing Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) to be sure of their status. RT-PCR tests can at best give results after 6-7 hours. Panchkula’s sampling rate stands much higher than the UT and Mohali and is also higher than the state average.
Increase in active cases
Marking a rapid increase in number as active cases in district rose from 500 on August 22 to cross 1000-active case mark on Thursday, district authorities rushed to create more space for incoming patients. While the district had 1,100 beds reserved for Covid-19 positive patients including care centres for asymptomatic cases (hostels and bhawans), health centres for moderately symptomatic (civil hospital) and hospitals for severely-ill patients (private hospitals with ventilators), the number has increased to almost 1,300 now.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines