COVID-19 Update

Karnataka: No let-up in cases

Print edition : September 11, 2020

Health workers collecting samples for COVID-19 testing at a government hospital in Bengaluru on August 7. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

The spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Karnataka is apparently directly linked to the increase in testing. From early August, close to 50,000 tests were done every day in the State.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases has been rising steadily in Karnataka. The State, which reported its first case on March 8, had a cumulative total of 2,40,948 cases as on August 18, 79,782 of them active, and 4,021 deaths. Since early August the number of cases reported daily has been on the increase, with the highest numbers being reported on three days in the second week—7,883 on August 12; 7,908 on August 14; and 8,818 on August 15.

More than 80 per cent of the deceased reported symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARI) or influenza-like illness (ILI). Karnataka now has the fourth highest number of cases in the country after Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

With 94,106 cases, 33,081 of them active, Bengaluru Urban continues to have the largest number of positive cases in Karnataka. Bengaluru city has been reporting on an average more than 2,000 new cases every day and has recorded the highest number of deaths (as on August 18) at 1,532. The highest number of cases were reported from the city’s west zone, covering 50 square kilometres and having a population of 18 lakhs. Parts of the zone are densely populated, which has given rise to fears of the spread of the virus.

Contact tracing has become impossible owing to staff shortage. Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan, during a conversation with mediapersons, said: “Primary contacts get traced within two hours. Tracing secondary contacts is the challenge.”

Other districts that have reported a significant rise in the number of cases include Ballari (15,180), Mysuru (11,489), Kalaburagi (9,265), Dakshina Kannada (9,296) and Udupi (8,663). The swift rise in the number of cases in June and July can be understood when one looks at the timeline of the pandemic in Karnataka. The State took four and a half months to report one lakh cases, the tally it reached on July 27. And then it took only 17 days to report another one lakh cases on August 13.

Testing ramped up

The increase in the number of cases is directly linked to the increase in testing. Testing was ramped up in the State in August with close to 50,000 tests done every day in 101 laboratories across the State using both RT-PCR and rapid antigen methods. A total of 21,34,174 samples have been tested in the State. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) introduced free testing in the city but there were complaints that many designated fever clinics had run out of testing kits. There were also complaints of delay in getting the test results, which took anywhere between three and eight days. According to information from the Health Department, the State has ordered 10 lakh rapid antigen kits to address the shortage. Officials said the delay in testing was because of the backlog accumulated since early July.

Even as the number of cases continued to rise, a decline in the positivity rate was noticed in Bengaluru along with a slight decline in the daily number of active cases. The BBMP uses a moving average rate of seven days and 30 days to ascertain the spread of the virus.

According to the data shared by the BBMP COVID-19 war room, the test positivity rate (positive samples among total samples tested) has been falling consistently since it peaked in mid-July. The data revealed that the positivity rate in Bengaluru was down to 18 per cent in August from 24 per cent in July. (The State’s positivity rate is 15.3 per cent.) The death rate has also dropped in the city. N. Manjunatha Prasad, the BBMP Commissioner, attributed this to “increased testing which is helping us to detect cases early and provide treatment in the early stages itself.” Dr Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and member of the State’s COVID-19 Task Force, said, “Bengaluru has seen the highest fall in the death rate whereas other districts have also seen a slight fall in the death rate.”

Two other developments that are seen as positive in Bengaluru are the decline in the demand for hospital beds and admissions to COVID care centres (CCC). According to the BBMP’s live status of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients across government and private hospitals, almost 50 per cent of the 5,802 hospital beds are available but intensive care units (ICUs) are still reporting an occupancy of more than 90 per cent. A statement by the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association in the city has requested the government to free up the beds which are currently reserved for COVID-19 patients so that they can be used for other patients.

With clarity emerging in home isolation protocols, more and more asymptomatic patients were opting to remain at home. As a result, five of the 11 CCCs in Bengaluru, including the 10,000-bed one at the Bangalore International Exhibition are likely to be wound up. Complaints about the lack of facilities at the CCCs is said to be one of the factors responsible for people opting for home isolation.

Dr Srinivas Kakkilaya, a Mangaluru-based general physician who recently published a book on COVID-19 in Kannada, said he expected the number of cases to start falling in Bengaluru “in another month”. He said in other parts of the State it could take some more time depending on the extent of the spread of the virus in the community. The COVID-19 Task Force has recommended that a sero-survey be done to ascertain the extent of community transmission. This is a viable option, according to sources in the Health Department.

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