Every morning for the past two weeks, Sadhana Ajgaonkar, 50, a schoolteacher, steps out of her home near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali at 9 am to hop onto a BEST bus that takes her past the Dahisar Check Naka. She then walks for another two kilometres to make her way to a residential high-rise at the Shanti Gardens Road in Mira Road (East).
Mask on her face and gloves in hand, she then goes door-to-door armed with a thick ledger of dos and don’ts for people suspected of carrying the coronavirus.
Amid lockdown, the class VII teacher at a Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation-run school in Ghodbunder goes about her business diligently, asking questions to families in the high-rise to check whether they have developed any symptoms of the virus and teaching them how to practise social isolation.
By 3.30 pm on Sunday, she has already surveyed 196 families covering 724 people in all. “Today (Sunday) was my 13th day of the task. By God’s grace, we’ve found no suspect case here so far,” she says.
Siddhi Rane, 43, a class I teacher in another school, who resides in Dahisar, has an almost identical routine. “There were some who were irritated when we rang their house bell. Some would ask what’s the point of the survey when we do not have drugs to administer. But once they understood, they cooperated. Nowadays they even inquire about my health,” she said. Rane covered 184 houses in a big residential complex in the same locality, which has been declared as a containment zone by the Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) after a few cases of coronavirus were detected from here.
School teachers like Ajgaonkar and Rane, along with Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) have been deployed as Mira Bhayander’s first line of defence to trace down cases of coronavirus. With 82 positive cases, including two deaths, this satellite town of Mumbai, which has a population of 15 lakh, is emerging as a coronavirus hotspot. In Maharashtra, it is the fifth worst-hit region after Mumbai, Pune and municipal corporations of Thane and Vasai-Virar.
Municipal Commissioner Chandrakant Dange said, “Swabs of 435 people have been collected so far. Of these 245 have tested negative, while 82 have come positive. Results of another 99 are awaited. In all, 858 people are under observation, including 95 positive or suspect cases who have been kept in isolation wards, another 183 in quarantine cells and 570 others under home quarantine. Eight of the positive patients have recovered so far.” The government has set up a dedicated 140-bedded hospital to treat COVID-19 cases.
Till Sunday evening, 14 areas within the municipality had already been declared as containment zones. While these areas remained sealed to passenger movement, the task for these school teachers and ASHA workers are to go inside daily to trace suspected patients in these high-risk spots.
“We have formed 150 teams — a school teacher and an ASHA (or a community) worker each — to monitor families inside the containment zones,” said MBMC’s medical officer Dr Nandkishore Lahane.
Asked why teachers had to be deployed for screening, Dange points out to the limited strength of officials and employees in MBMC’s departments. While Mumbai and some other municipalities in the Mumbai Metro-politan Region (MMR) have pooled staff from the state government offices in their limits, Dange points out that almost none are situated within his municipality’s limits. “There is only one office of the sales tax and a regional office of the Thane collectorate. We’ve requisitioned staff from these. They’ll soon join us,” he said.
Ajgaonkar knows her task at hand. She continues going from one door to another, enquiring if someone has newly developed symptoms of sneezing, dry cough, fever, breathless, and checking, in particular, about people with a medical history of diabetes, blood pressure, heart diseases and cancer. “I’m aware of the risk of contracting an infection. But I’m a public servant first. I must lend a hand to the government’s effort in combating the virus,” she says.
But despite all efforts, there has been a further spurt in positive cases. Since Saturday, 24 new cases have been reported, prompting the municipality to opt for a further tightening of the lockdown.
“There will be a total lockdown in Mira Bhayander till April 23. Only medicine shops will be allowed to operate. Home deliveries of milk, groceries, vegetables, meat, mutton and other essentials will only be permitted between 9 am to 5 pm. No movement of people or vehicles (with the exception of those in the essential category) will be permitted,” said Dange.
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