COVID-19: Lack of testing is burdening the system, say doctors

Updated: Apr 11, 2020, 09:11 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Faizan Khan | Mumbai

But health workers say the BMC's policy has increased the workload in quarantine centres

People being sanitised with a mist spray before entering the Dharavi police station. Pic/Ashish Raje
People being sanitised with a mist spray before entering the Dharavi police station. Pic/Ashish Raje

Even as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the state, health workers are facing a new challenge due to the way BMC is monitoring patients. The civic body's inability to conduct the required number of tests has burdened medics and cops deployed at quarantine facilities across the city.

According to sources, there are a number of cases in which civic hospitals have not conducted tests of symptomatic patients referred to them. These patients have either been admitted or asked to return home after being prescribed some basic medicines.

In most cases, their nasal and throat swabs are taken after they die to ascertain whether they died of Coronavirus. But by the time the report arrives, relatives and friends of the deceased would have already cremated the body and conducted the final rites.

Limited test kits

A senior government health official confessed to the lacunae in the system and said, "It is true that the testing rate is slow because limited test kits are available. It is the reason we have been testing those who we strongly suspect of being COVID-19 positive."

However, the situation has increased the workload of police officers and health workers at quarantine centres. They now have to track down those who attend the funerals of the patients who die due to Coronavirus to quarantine them. A senior cop said that tracking so many people was not an easy job.

"We have to check on the relatives of the deceased and also have to track down those who attended the funerals. Most of the times either the relatives share wrong details or they switch off their mobile phones so that we cannot trace them," said a senior police officer deployed in the northern part of the city.

"People who attend the funerals of those who die due to COVID-19 should voluntarily come forward to get quarantined for their own safety and that of the family members. But instead of doing that they become untraceable," said the officer, adding, "Had the civic body conducted COVID-19 tests immediately after admitting patients, we would not have witnessed such a spike in the number of people admitted to quarantine facilities."

Over 10,000 people are being quarantined at different hospitals in Mumbai, he said and added, "Besides this, hundreds of people are undergoing home quarantine."

'BMC fails to monitor patients'

Requesting anonymity, a senior cop said, "At the time of this global health crisis, the BMC has failed to monitor COVID-19 patients across the city. Many a times symptomatic patients have not undergone tests and their swabs were collected only after they died."

Police officers have been facing a tough time tracing those people who attend the funerals of patients whose tests turn out to be positive after their death. PIC/ASHISH RAJEPolice officers have been facing a tough time tracing those people who attend the funerals of patients whose tests turn out to be positive after their death. Pic/Ashish Raje

"After the deceased are cremated, their test reports turn out to be positive, and then we have to track down all the people who attended the funerals," said another cop.

"Relatives and friends gathering for the final rites of these people are giving us a tough time when we are busy enforcing social-distancing to combat the pandemic," said a senior officer.

Meanwhile, BMC officials have now decided to not conduct COVID-19 tests of those whose swabs could not be collected before his/her death.

Case studies: Patients test positive for Coronavirus after death

  • A renowned surgeon died last month due to Coronavirus, after which nearly 30 doctors and nurses were kept in isolation at Saifee Hospital. Despite having symptoms of the viral disease, he had conducted several surgeries and civic officials did not take any step to quarantine him
  • A 65-year-old Malwani resident, who was first rushed to Shatabdi Hospital and later shifted to a private hospital for his dialysis, died during treatment on April 1. His test came positive for COVID-19 after his death. Cops and civic officials had to track down those who attended his funeral.
  • The cops and civic officials have been facing a tough time in tracking down nearly 100 people who attended the funeral of a 62-year-old woman, who died of COVID-19 infection on Tuesday at Rajawadi Hospital. She used to sell milk in Vikhroli and was unwell since the last 15 days. Sources told mid-day that she was being treated by a local doctor in Vikhroli and was admitted to Rajawadi Hospital after her health deteriorated. "Despite her having symptoms of COVID-19, the doctors did not conduct any test initially. Her swabs were taken after her death and the body was carelessly handed over to her relatives. The doctors should have waited for her test report before handing over the body," said Sudhir More, former corporator of the area. "After being informed by the department concerned, we tracked down 35 people who attended her funeral and came in contact with her. All of them have been quarantined. The area where she lived has been sealed," said ACP, Vilas Kanade.

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