National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases is one of only two government labs testing for coronavirus in Kolkata. Director Shanta Dutta talks to The Indian Express about the state’s numbers, testing procedures, and its audit panel to certify deaths:
The state government said recently that there was a lack of testing kits, delaying rapid testing for COVID-19. How many kits does the NICED have?
The kit for rapid testing was dispatched on Friday by the ICMR to states. So far, the NICED has received 42,500 RT PCR kits, of which 12,500 have been distributed to Bengal medical colleges.
What is the reason for such low testing in West Bengal?
I am not aware of the reason. We have enough kits. Our lab is prepared to test at least 250 samples per day. We would welcome more samples for testing.
What is the process for reporting samples and positive cases to the Centre?
The ICMR has developed a data dashboard and data entry portal. Every day, one has to upload the number of tests done and the number of positive as well as negative results.
There is a difference between numbers put out by the state and Centre.
The state is reporting the total number of active cases under treatment in various government hospitals. In this figure, the number of deaths and recovered patients are not counted, whereas Central portal shows the total number of positive cases till date, including both deaths as well as those recovered.
Can West Bengal do more to check COVID-19 spread?
It should implement total lockdown in hotspot areas, not allow people to step out and ensure supply of essential commodities like food, water, milk at doorstep. Masks should be mandatory when one is outdoors. Social distancing is the main focus of prevention. A few drugs like hydroxychloroquine and vaccination (BCG) can be used as prophylactic among doctors and others in direct contact with patients. The state should also carry out mass testing through rapid test kits and, if found positive, these cases should be reconfirmed by RT PCR. There should be door-to-door visits by health workers in hot spots and cases of influenza-like illnesses or those with mild symptoms can be tested to see if there is any community transmission. When found positive, people and their contacts should be put in isolation/quarantine.
There have been several cases of patients in general wards testing positive. A large number of state-run hospitals have consequently been sealed.
I have heard patients are hiding their symptoms fearing hospitals won’t admit them. Hence it is recommended that their temperature records be maintained, irrespective of their symptoms, and if any increase is recorded, they should be transferred to the isolation unit and tested for COVID-19.
There is confusion regarding the number of coronavirus deaths in West Bengal. The official state number is 10. The Trinamool government has set up a committee to audit deaths to certify if caused by COVID-19 or a co-morbidity. What, according to you, should be the procedure to ascertain the death count?
It’s the attending physicians who update members of the audit committee on the condition of a patient. Hence the attending physician is the best judge to decide the factors responsible for a death. Moreover, any death occurs due to cardio-respiratory failure irrespective of any co-morbid conditions or infections the patient may have. Therefore, for counting deaths of COVID-19 patients, one should rely on the treating physicians and not the decision of a committee.
Is there any guideline from the Centre or advice on such a committee?
There is no such guideline.
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