While a section of doctors and health experts have raised demands for more widespread COVID-19 testing in the State, others suggest that a judicious allocation of resources would be a more prudent strategy.
Health economist Rijo John said the State was doing an average of 1,422 tests per million per day for the past week, which placed it in the seventh position compared to other States. “But with a test positivity rate at a seven-day average of 14%, we should be testing a lot more, otherwise we will miss registering an increasing number of cases,” he said.
From a seven-day average of around 62,000 tests on October 7, absolute testing figures had fallen by around 20% to a seven-day average of 50,431 on Tuesday, he said. While the test positivity rate had been at 16% a few days ago, it had fallen a little recently, since fewer cases are being detected, he added.
Besides, the State has not been releasing figures on positivity based on the type of test done, Mr. John said. “Around 80% of the tests done are antigen tests, and these tests have a lower test positivity rate than RT-PCR tests,” he informed.
“We have tried to increase testing. From the 2,000-3,000 tests we were doing initially, it hit nearly 70,000 recently, which is a 20- to 30-fold increase,” said Dr. Amar Fettle, State nodal officer for public health emergencies. “If we are to increase testing further, more people will have to be diverted to testing. Others will have to be recruited and trained, since the process is a time-consuming and meticulous one, right from collection to package, dispatch, and documentation,” he added.
Testing figures had fallen a little a few days ago, when a new software portal was introduced. Tests were done, but there had been a glitch with entering the data, Dr. Fettle said.
Considering the pandemic’s trajectory in the State which had reached a plateau in the past few days, a marginal increase from an average of around 50,000 tests now to nearly 75,000 tests daily might be beneficial, said Dr. T.S. Anish, Associate Professor of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram. “For the time being, a large increase in testing might not be necessary. If test positivity rate increases further to over 20%, maybe tests would have to go up further,” he said.
“We need to see if resources are being used effectively. If tests are increased to one lakh, we need to see what our advantage will be. We might be able to pick up more cases and get a more reasonable estimation of the actual number of people infected in the State. With the current testing figures, if we can detect symptomatic cases, increased testing might reveal cases among asymptomatic people or those already in quarantine, which does not help in controlling the spread of the disease,” he said.