Finally, Telangana is testing, but there’s no one to do the tracing

Hyderabad: Testing on 50,000 people, announced by the government, has started on a massive scale in Hyderabad and other Telangana districts but there are not enough people to collect samples and follow up on contact tracing.

Around 1,200 samples are being collected daily at Osmania General Hospital (OGH) but there is only one technician on duty to do the tests. At private hospitals, people queue up early in the morning to have their samples taken but it can be late afternoon by the time they are attended to.

Yet, in every constituency, the local municipal corporator and MLA are urging people to get tested. While there are enough testing kits, the manpower to carry out the tests is lacking. Delayed results cause a chain reaction: those who are carriers of the coronavirus go about normally and spread the infection to their primary contacts.

Mohan Babu (name changed) had fever for 10 days but his X-ray did not show any congestion of the lungs or any lesions. It was suspected to be a normal viral fever. When medication did not work, a CT scan was advised and the typical ground-glass appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was noted. A test at a private hospital confirmed he had COVID-19. He is now being treated in hospital but for 10 days before his test came back positive, Babu went to office despite his fever.

Government officials then traced his contacts and they numbered 2,000. His immediate family and friends have been isolated but others who came in contact with Babu are not yet aware of his positive status. Some of they may have been infected but won’t be alert to that possibility until some symptoms emerge.

A senior health official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said such cases are becoming difficult to handle because “there are a very limited number of officials available to trace the contacts. Most of them have been exposed and have developed symptoms themselves. They have been asked to self-quarantine. Follow-up is on telephone with those whose numbers are available. Those whom they are not aware of are best left to themselves.”

Officials say many people now want to be tested but not all of them have symptoms. Those who have mild symptoms are trying to manage at home. They do not want to get exposed to infections in hospital. A health worker in a private hospital said there is a shortage of healthcare workers at all levels, as duties are on a rotational basis, meaning a certain amount of days on and a certain amount of days off. Despite personal protection equipment, many health workers have tested positive and are in quarantine or home treatment.

Delay in getting the results is leading to delay in treatment, with patients developing severe pneumonia and complications. Gandhi Hospital only admits patients after their COVID-19 test results are provided and due to this some patients are arriving with severe symptoms. By the time the treatment regime is initiated, patients are collapsing. According to sources in Gandhi Hospital, in the last 15 days deaths have occurred in patients who had arrived two or three days ago. This is due to the delay in testing and then in getting the results.

This gap is being seen as the reason for the increasing number of deaths in Telangana. Of the 500 patients in Gandhi Hospital, 20 are on ventilator support and 60 on oxygen therapy, 230 have mild symptoms and 190 are under observation.

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