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Coronavirus route map, geo-tag, screening: How a Kerala district did it

As Kerala hotspot Pathanamthitta is discussed as one of the successful examples of how to contain COVID-19, what makes it different is this level of detail, including successful use of technology.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: April 12, 2020 7:13:01 am
Medical staff collect swabs to carry out tests for COVID-19 in Ernakulam, Kerala. Reuters Photo

Among the people to test positive for coronavirus in Kerala following an alert about the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi was a 19-year-old, whose sample was taken after she had been asymptomatic and in home quarantine for 14 days, because she had boarded a train from a railway station nearby. COVID-19 LIVE updates

As Kerala hotspot Pathanamthitta is discussed as one of the successful examples of how to contain COVID-19, what makes it different is this level of detail, including successful use of technology.

The district has kept under observation almost all those who have entered it via air, rail or road, and put out route maps of positive cases to ensure no contacts slip through, even as it tests groups determined as high-risk. By Saturday evening, the district had tested 2244 samples.

During a meeting on last Sunday, Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba said the strategy adopted by Pathanamthitta was worth emulating.

The district saw its first cases in early March, with a three-member Italy-returned family and their relatives testing positive. The count would eventually go up to 16.

Read | Coronavirus: Month after testing positive, 8 Europeans discharged in Kerala

As a first step, Pathanamthitta sealed its borders. Unlike other parts of the country where only persons with travel history from abroad were being screened, it decided to do so for all entering the district, from overseas, other states or even districts, creating a database of the same. Details of those who entered the district from abroad and across the country since January were added to the database.

About their first challenge, Collector P B Nooh said, “The importance of social isolation, quarantine and containment strategies was not familiar to people then.

In a first, the district administration also decided to prepare route maps of the positive cases. “This was not a part of the contact-tracing procedure. A flow chart was publicised to help people see if they had been present at a stated travel path at a particular time. After the chart was published, we could trace more people, and many voluntarily reported to us. Later, all districts emulated this model,’’ said National Health Mission District Programme Officer Dr Abey Sushan.

Also Read | Delay in supply of COVID-19 kits hits rapid test plan

The administration launched a call centre from where enquiries were made twice daily to those under quarantine, regarding medical and non-medical requirements. Fourteen teams of health workers monitored nearly 4,000 road and rail entrants on a daily basis.

A group of engineering students of IHRD College, Chengannur, designed a ‘Corona RM’ app, where the call centre counsellors would upload requirements of those under home quarantine. The administration next put in place geo-mapping of those under observation. Nooh said selecting the right population for sampling was a key intervention. “With limited kits, we could test only 200 samples a day. So we chose categories like international travellers, inter-state travellers, health workers, and their primary contacts, migrant workers, senior citizens under observation, symptomatic persons and those who had returned from COVID-19 hotspots, including in India.” The Collector said this is how they zeroed in on the 19-year-old college student from Delhi, an asymptomatic person from Dubai, and three people from Dharavi in Mumbai.

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