Odisha’s Ganjam district has seen a significant slowing down of the novel coronavirus infection in recent weeks. From being the state’s Covid-19 hotspot — when the district appeared to be on the verge of a largescale outbreak as migrants returned from Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu — Ganjam now has the third lowest active cases.
Odisha as a whole is currently number 8 in the list of states with the largest caseloads, behind Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and West Bengal. However, as of Monday (October 5), Odisha had seen just 907 deaths according to data on the Health Ministry’s coronavirus dashboard, a small fraction of the toll in the seven states above it (in terms of caseload). The dashboard showed 29,504 active cases for Odisha on Monday, down 797 cases since Sunday.
What was the situation a few months ago, when Ganjam was seen as Odisha’s Covid-19 hotspot?
The district reported its first positive case on May 2. A first batch of migrants had returned to Ganjam in four buses from Surat on April 28, and of the 220 who were tested, 28 returned positive results.
By May 7, Ganjam had 59 cases, and the biggest caseload in Odisha. It took until June 22, almost 50 days after the first case, for the number of cases to reach 1,000.
The pace of the spread increased dramatically thereafter. In the next 10 days, the cases doubled to 2000, and by the end of July, the case number had crossed 10,000.
Apart from the returning migrants who contributed to the high caseload, aspects such as compartment-like dwelling houses with a common wall in between, the relative absence of health services, and the fact that frontline workers were infected, were identified as contributing to the spike in numbers.
The migrant inflow stopped by the end of June. Those who returned were quarantined for 14 days and given Rs 2,000.
Around mid-August, the trajectory of the epidemic turned. Average daily new detections came down from 500 in July to 200 in the first two weeks of August; by the second week of September, it had dropped below 100. On October 4, the district reported only 43 new cases.
Increased testing and extensive screening
So far over 3 lakh tests have been conducted in Ganjam district, of which close to 20,000 have tested positive. By contrast, on July 7, 466 samples were tested, of which 273 tested positive. (A total 15,433 samples had been tested in the district until then.)
At the beginning of August, 2,148 samples were being tested. This number had touched 10,061 on August 28. In September, 4,500 tests on average were conducted per day.
Recoveries in the district improved from approximately 500 in June to 2,000 in July, 15,462 by the end of August, and to 19,309 as of September 25.
The district has undertaken a second round of screening for all recovered patients. For management at the grassroots level, a nodal officer has been put in charge of every 400 houses. A team of paramedics visit and monitor the houses, and also mapped co-morbidities in the population.
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Focus on fatalities
As the infection spread increased, the administration diverted its focus to “no more deaths” by ensuring timely treatment. One major local innovation adopted by them was to introduce private ambulances with a trained health worker at each gram panchayat level, apart from the 108 ambulances services.
For positive patients, psychological counselling has also been undertaken. For the first three days after a patient is tested positive, they also undergo psychological counselling.
A team of counsellors have been deputed who make 100 calls a day and are available round the clock for all kinds of assistance.
The district also appointed “COVID bandhus”, including recovered patients who volunteered to assist the district administration in persuading symptomatic cases to go for testing, counsel and guide positive patients, and also spread awareness about the infection.
So far nearly 700 recovered patients have volunteered who are provided with a daily incentive of Rs 100.
A help desk with four lines and an outbound call centre with 10 lines have been set up to monitor all positive cases. The call centre is expected to make calls to every positive person in home isolation thrice a day. Every patient has a health card which is shared with the call centre executives and the questions are asked accordingly.
The district had initiated “COVID week” to further spread awareness, and to undertake another round of extensive screening.
Women from self help groups, who have been trained and designated as “COVID sakhis” will visit households to spread awareness.
All villages and wards will be sanitised again, and masks will be distributed amongst all the citizens. Specifically in remote areas, door-to-door screening will be undertaken.