Coronavirus (COVID-19): When filmmaker and Noida resident Akanksha Singh Sood was called in to test for COVID-19, nearly two weeks after boarding a domestic flight back from Chennai, she ended up being quarantined at the Dr BR Ambedkar SC-ST hostel in Noida and told it would just be for two days till the results came out.
“The notice actually came from Chennai asking those who took the flight to contact the COVID-19 helpline. I had already been self-isolating at home for 12 days, but contacted them anyway because I felt it was important to cooperate. When they put me through to the CMO’s office, the officer handling the calls wasn’t even aware of this and had asked me to forward him the notice,” she said.
However, when Sood still found herself stuck in the hostel on the third day, she was nervous. By the fifth day, her husband was running from pillar to post to somehow extract her report. “I was told my report would be out in two days. It was apparently ready by the fourth day, but I was kept there for five days,” Sood told The Indian Express.
With over a hundred samples drawn in the district everyday for COVID-19 testing, slow turnaround times for results had made it difficult for an increasing number of people crowding the hostel to keep safe.
Sood isn’t the only one who didn’t get her report within the stipulated 48 hours. Others, like a 50-year-old daily wage labourer who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, had to wait longer.
“I kept asking them (the doctors at the quarantine facility) when my report would come, but nobody would give me a clear answer. My children were very sick and I needed my report soon so that I could go home,” he said, adding that he was kept at the facility for six days despite being told he would go home within a couple of days. He said he had even tried asking others quarantined there to help him get out, and had begun to get worried when he would see these people — some of who had arrived on the same day as him — get their reports, but not him.
Another person, a senior citizen whose family was discharged within five days, said his report hadn’t come out until the seventh day.
While the number would keep changing, 100-150 people had been quarantined at the hostel on average last week, The Indian Express has learnt.
“The first night I arrived, I saw people standing in a queue for dinner. There is social distancing, but with so many people at the facility, a six-foot distance would come down to two feet in these lines,” said Sood. Though discharged, she still isolates herself away from her family because she is worried she might have been exposed to the virus during her stay at the facility.
Queries sent to the Chief Medical Officer of Noida on Saturday and follow up emails on Monday and Tuesday remained unanswered by press time. Phone calls and a message to the CMO, AP Chaturvedi, on Tuesday also went unanswered.
The long wait for results can be attributed to an influx of samples at testing centres with limited capacity. In this case, the Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh can test at most 130 samples a day, The Indian Express has learnt. Around 100-150 samples were being sent from Noida alone everyday, but the lab also gets samples from several other districts, said sources.
Uttar Pradesh’s announcement that it would be conducting pooled testing, though potentially helpful in improving the state’s overall screening, cannot help such labs. However, with a few more testing laboratories and quarantine facilities being opened up in UP in the last few days, the state hopes to minimise risks of exposure.
“The focus is to turn around test results of those quarantined as soon as possible, because if testing is slow, these quarantine facilities might fall short going forward. But we are taking steps and I don’t think exposure will be an issue,” said Dr Amita Jain, head of the microbiology department at King George Medical University and UP’s nodal officer for COVID-19 testing.
Some labs are currently dealing with a high load of samples from areas with high rates of positivity like Agra and Noida, according to her. “On average, these labs would be getting 200-400 samples per day from these districts,” she said.
“But, the Department of Medical Education and ICMR are working on expanding the capacity fast, increasing testing to more than 2,000 samples a day in the state from 200 before. By the end of the week, they are planning to increase it to around 4,000-5,000 a day,” she told The Indian Express.
According to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the VRDL in Aligarh had sent more than 300 samples over the weekend to two new testing facilities in Noida to reduce its load, as it was already dealing with 600 more samples.
The National Institute of Biologicals and the Government Institute of Medical Sciences, notified on Sunday, together would have the capacity to test up to 1,050 samples a day, they said.
“Those who are cautious will be able to keep safe. Still, newer quarantine centres like in Galgotias University were started this weekend and some people have been shifted out from the SC ST hostel to reduce any crowds,” the person added. “They’ve also started allowing paid quarantine facilities in two locations.”
Over 400 people were in quarantine in facilities across Noida on Monday, said sources.
So far, UP has been among states with a relatively low rate of testing, but also a low case fatality rate. It was performing 10.66 tests per million residents, shows data compiled on April 6 by ICMR-NIE Scientist Dr Tarun Bhatnagar, PHFI Professor and Head, Life Course Epidemiology Dr Giridhara R Babu and PHFI Research Associate Deepa R. Its low fatality rate of 0.88 percent was possibly due to poor surveillance and testing efforts, they suggested.
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