Tamil Nadu

As cases go up, should Tamil Nadu be testing more?

The number of people tested every day for COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu has stayed around the 1.1 lakh mark in the last week, even as cases and the State’s test positivity rate (TPR) continue to rise steadily.

The daily TPR crossed 10% on Tuesday and touched 11.18% on Thursday. The last time it was above 10% was during the last week of July, when an average of 60,000 tests were being done and 6,500 cases reported daily.

The State had 120 labs then. Now, it has more than doubled the figure to 263, with a capacity to perform RT-PCR and other types of tests for COVID-19. This raises questions about whether Tamil Nadu can and should increase testing.

Chennai, in particular, has a daily TPR of over 20% now. Last July, when the city was reporting a high number of cases, it was testing around 11,000-12,000 people a day, while its TPR was at 10%. While the cases reported daily have more than doubled now, tests increased to an average 17,000 last week — only a 50% increase from last July.

A comparison of Tamil Nadu with other States also highlighted the possible need for increased testing. For instance, among the 15 States that have over 50,000 active cases, Tamil Nadu stands ninth in terms of tests per million population performed every day.

Officials in Tamil Nadu have often highlighted the State’s complete reliance on RT-PCR tests, calling it the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, unlike other States that have widely used rapid antigen detection tests too.

Delhi and Karnataka, among the few States to provide a break-up on the number of RT-PCR and other tests performed on a daily basis, however, indicate the possibility of better utilisation of lab capacities.

Delhi, with 81 RT-PCR testing labs, performed 60,022 tests on average every day. Karnataka, with 153 labs, performed 1.25 lakh tests. In comparison, Tamil Nadu, with 189 RT-PCR labs, performed just 1.05 lakh tests.

Prabhdeep Kaur, Deputy Director, National Institute of Epidemiology-ICMR, stressed the need for increasing testing based on a focused and data-driven approach to proactively identify hotspots and contain the spread. She said that while Chennai had been doing it to a considerable extent, mainly through its fever camps, a similar approach could be followed across the State. “This can be particularly helpful in rural areas where people may have difficulties in getting themselves tested sooner,” she said.

K. Kolandaisamy, former Director of Public Health, Tamil Nadu, said tests had fairly stabilised in the State, and a sharp increase should not be undertaken to artificially bring TPR down. He, however, stressed the need for an increase in focused and proactive testing in containment zones, testing of antenatal mothers and others visiting hospitals.

J. Radhakrishnan, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, said the government was following a principle of testing at least 10 persons for every person testing positive. “The tests needed for effective tracing are being done. We are also steadily increasing testing on a daily basis,” he said.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 5:34:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/as-cases-go-up-should-tamil-nadu-be-testing-more/article34388752.ece

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