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Maharashtra doubles Covid testing in July as it looks to cut record positivity, death rates

Maharashtra govt ramped up testing to nearly 20 lakh in less than a month by giving district officials targets and democratising the regime under a single department.

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Mumbai: Maharashtra added over two lakh Covid-19 positive cases to its cumulative tally in July, but it also significantly ramped up its testing this month, almost doubling the total number of tests conducted so far.

As of 28 July, Maharashtra conducted 19.72 lakh Covid tests, a 98 per cent rise from 1 July, when the total number of tests was at 9.95 lakh, according to data from the Maharashtra medical education and drugs department.

Maharashtra has so far recorded 3,83,723 Covid positive cases, of which 1,47,592 are active.

“Till the end of June, testing was lacklustre across the state. While our department was responsible for setting up the testing infrastructure, the responsibility for actual testing was with another department,” a senior official from the state medical education and drugs department said.

“The state government then decided to bring both these aspects of testing under one umbrella, making our department solely responsible for the number of tests too,” said the official who didn’t wish to be named.

“Contact tracing was not rigorous. The testing per case was very low. Major centres such as Mumbai and Pune too were testing under 3,500 a day. We realised that the officials in charge were not ramping up testing fearing it will lead to a spike in numbers and they will be blamed for it,” the official said. “End of June, we started fixing these hiccups in testing.”

Currently, Maharashtra has a fatality rate of 3.62 per cent, higher than the country’s average of 2.25 per cent. It also has the country’s highest positivity rate at 20.04 per cent, higher than the national average of 11.59 per cent.

Also read: 57% of Mumbai slum dwellers were exposed to Covid, developed antibodies, finds sero survey

Democratising tests, setting targets

The state government gave district officials certain targets to increase testing. For every positive case detected, officials were asked to test at least 10 individuals.

“Districts that were barely testing, such as those in the Vidarbha region, have now started testing at least 6-7 persons per positive case,” the medical education department official said.

“We also assured the local district health officers and urban civil surgeons that they will not be hanged for a surge in cases due to higher testing, which was one of their main concerns,” he said, adding at the same time collectors were told to plan quarantine and Covid care facilities better.

Meanwhile, the state also took steps to open up testing. In a circular on 23 June, it first allowed all hospitals, whether government, semi government, private or charitable, to conduct rapid antigen tests and antibody tests on any patient as required.

In another circular dated 6 July, the government permitted private establishments to conduct Covid testing for their employees, provided the minimum number of people being tested is 50. The state government also decided to do away with the requirement of doctors’ prescriptions for Covid testing, further democratising tests.

“The state government is helping district collectors procure rapid antigen tests, while civic corporations have been asked to procure their own test kits,” the official said.

Also read: Positivity dips to 9%, mortality 2.25%. Over 5 lakh tests/day but Delhi numbers under scanner

Testing in Maharashtra close to peak capacity

Places such as Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Aurangabad and Vidarbha districts such as Nagpur and Yavatmal have rapidly boosted testing over the past month.

The total tests in Mumbai increased by 45 per cent in July — from 3.33 lakh on 30 June to 4.85 lakh as of 27 July.

In the Pune district, 4.57 lakh persons had been tested for Covid as of 27 July, with about 1.16 lakh tests done in the past four weeks itself, an official from the district said.

District Collector Naval Kishore Ram tweeted Tuesday, “Testing, tracing and CFR (Case Fatality Rate). We are assessed on 3 main indicators. We have tested 457608 samples till date . More than 10 persons are being traced against one positive person.”

Similarly, Vidarbha districts, which initially had very few cases and low testing, have also started testing more since the past month. Testing in the Yavatmal district grew phenomenally to 13,407 as of 27 July, from just 4,950 on 1 July, according to the district’s records.

In the Nagpur district too, the number of tests increased to 66,176 as of 27 July from 24,206 as of 29 June.

State government records show Maharashtra has 133 viral diagnostic laboratories, with one RT-PCR test lab in almost every district, and the state’s peak testing capacity is 58,600.

The testing in Maharashtra is currently about 40,000, with the one-day testing on 27 July being 44,013.

“With improved testing, we are also hoping to reduce the mortality rate as more cases are detected right at the outset than on the fourth or fifth day as the case earlier was,” said another state government official.

Also read: India’s positivity rate decreases but infection rate stays steady at 1.17


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