Testing times for Kochi as backlog of samples mounts

An increase in the collection of swabs for Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing in the past two weeks in the district has not been matched by an increase in sample processing facilities, resulting in a mounting backlog of samples waiting to be processed.

While only a little over 200 swabs were being collected daily at the beginning of the month, the spiralling number of cases has recently taken the collection to over 700 per day. The number had gone up to 839 swabs being sent for testing on July 14, going by figures available in daily press releases.

However, the number of pending test results hovered at a figure over 2,000 on a few days last week, touching 2,312 on Friday.

In addition to the two RT-PCR processing machines already at the Government Medical College Hospital, Kalamassery, a third one was recently set up, taking the total processing capacity for the district to about 450 samples daily at government facilities, said Mathews Numpelil, district programme manager, National Health Mission. A fourth facility, which was to be installed at the Regional Public Health Laboratory, was still awaiting a few components before it could be set up and begin functioning next week, he said.

“We are collecting a large number of swabs daily, but we do not have the capacity to process them all yet. Even once the new facility is installed, we are likely to have pending results, with an increase in symptomatic cases,” said District Medical Officer N.K. Kuttappan.

A medical official at the first-line treatment centre (FLTC) at Adlux Convention Centre, Angamaly, said the results for swabs collected on July 14 and 15 had been given to them only on July 18. Results usually took a maximum of two days to process. Those were swabs of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic patients whose samples were collected on the tenth day after they tested positive or showed symptoms, said the official.

“Even the routine samples from these FLTCs for people awaiting negative results before discharge have been delayed,” said Dr. Kuttappan.

It was mostly the samples awaiting a negative result before discharge that were placed on hold, said Dr. Numpelil. That could explain the low number of recoveries recorded in the district in the past few days, he pointed out.

ICMR guidelines

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines had suggested discharging asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients after the tenth day without testing, but that was currently not being followed in the State, he said.

“At present, the number of cases would not bother us. We will go ahead with the policy of discharge after a negative test result. But with a pandemic, things are dynamic and decisions will be taken going further. The time lag, which is mostly for repeat samples of patients who are already ill, will get under control in about a week,” said Rajan Khobragade, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare.

“The government of India has been consistently revising its discharge policy. The rationale given behind discharge without testing is that about 10 days after the start of symptoms, the chance of infection spreading from the person comes down to nearly nil, though viral RNA might still be present,” said Amar Fettle, State nodal officer for COVID-19.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 12:10:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/testing-times-for-kochi-as-backlog-of-samples-mounts/article32133584.ece

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