An analysis of 423 coronavirus positive samples in Maharashtra has shown that 4.6 per cent of the those tested in government laboratories have come positive, while in private laboratories, where testing criteria are more relaxed, only 0.24 per cent have tested positive. The rationale that ‘test more to detect more’, state officials said, then may not entirely be true for India where cases are still not widespread. Currently, Maharashtra has 50,000 quarantine beds, 10,000 isolation beds, and 1,000 ventilators for tackling coronavirus burden.
A state medical education department’s report on 423 positive samples Saturday showed that government laboratories had tested 8,956 high-risk category samples, of which it found 414 samples (4.6 per cent) positive. The government labs test only four category of people — those with travel history and symptoms, asymptomatic senior citizens with travel history and co-morbidities, health workers and patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Private laboratories are allowed to test a wider spectrum of patients that include all those who fall under the above criteria and people advised so by doctors. Data show these private labs had tested 3,896 people and found nine (0.24 per cent) positive cases. “If there was community transmission or the virus was widespread, even private laboratories would have shown a higher rate of positive cases. This shows our strategy to only test high-risk groups is on the right track,” said Sanjay Mukherjee, the medical education secretary.
Archana Patil, additional director in Directorate of Health Services, said the current government criteria for testing are enough at this point. “Private labs may be testing people from the general population, hence their rate for positive cases are low… We also don’t need to introduce rapid testing at this point. Rapid testing will only show how many people have developed antibodies against the virus. What intervention will we be able to provide with that information?”
Overall, in Maharashtra, three per cent of the total number of people tested have been found positive for COVID-19. What worries health officials, however, is that 69 per cent of positive persons are asymptomatic and capable of transmitting the infection unknowingly to others. There might be more who have been missed by the testing net.
At least five per cent of those infected have died in the state, while two per cent remain critical. Maharashtra’s death rate is higher than India’s average (2.5 per cent), but in sync with the global death rate (5.17 per cent). The mortality rate is highest (66.6 per cent) for those aged above 80 years, the rate is 27 per cent for those aged 71-80 years and keeps on decreasing for younger population.
Maharashtra continues to report the maximum cases in India with Mumbai contributing to 50 per cent of state burden.
The number of new cases remains erratic — from 15 cases on April 1 to 88 cases on April 2 and 67 new cases on April 3. State officials have attributed this trend to a delay in confirming test results from private labs by the government. “If we keep a backlog of private reports and confirm them on a single day, the day’s tally goes up. We are not able to truly reflect how many new cases are getting detected each day,” a state official said.
To prepare for a steep spike in COVID-19 cases, apart from 10,000 isolation beds, the state government plans to make use of 1,096 hospitals empanelled under the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana. But officials from the insurance scheme said the empanelled hospitals have shown hesitance in treating COVID-19 cases. “They do not have the required personal protective equipment. They have asked us to provide that,” said Dr Sudhakar Shinde, who heads the scheme.
Officials from the health department said the empanelled hospitals are being considered as the last resort when government facilities run to its full capacity. “We will make arrangements for PPE when required. Currently, there is adequate stock for health workers in isolation wards,” said an official from Directorate of Health Services.
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