– 74 recorded in 24 hours; 13 persons in ICU
By Navendra Seoraj
GUYANA continues to see a worrying rise in the number of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, with 74 new cases being recorded in just 24 hours.
The steady rise has caused panic across the country, but authorities have said that cases are being detected because more tests are being done. Sample taking was also increased across the country, because authorities had believed that many cases were going “under the radar”.
This suspicion had prompted authorities to distribute more sample kits across the country, especially to regions where the infection rate is high. Most of the cases have so far been recorded in Regions One (Barima-Waini), Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).
“We are sending out more kits, so there will be an increase in sample collection… The testing itself has components; one is sample collection, and then there is the processing of samples,” said Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony in a recent report.
The actual testing will be done centrally, at the National Reference Laboratory, because regional facilities lack the capacity and technical skills needed to get it done. While government hopes to improve capacity in those regions, the immediate need for sample testing takes precedence, especially with the high number of asymptomatic cases.
Health authorities have so far tested 7,234 persons, with 6,205 being negative, and 1,029 positive. Of the total positive cases, 510 persons have recovered, and 31 persons have lost their lives.
The remaining cases are being monitored by authorities, and according to recent statistics, 409 of those persons are in home isolation, while 66 are in institutional isolation, and 13 persons are being treated in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
It is clear that COVID-19 remains a threat to everyone in all areas of Guyana, and as cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, government will be looking to activate the controversial $1.6 billion Infectious Diseases Hospital as an isolation centre with 55 beds.
In addition to isolation facilities, one of Guyana’s main limitations in the fight against COVID-19 has been the country’s ability to test for the disease, but government, in an effort to build capacity in this area, has sourced an automated Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing machine.
As it is now, the country is equipped with just one machine, which is being utilised by the National Reference Laboratory. And, it was reported that the machine is over 20 years old, and was previously used to test for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
The situation was, however, only made known when the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) was elected to office early this month.
Despite the existing constraints, the new government sought to get maximum results from the existing resources. Health authorities have so far tested 6,904 persons for the disease, with 5,949 being negative and 955 positive.
“With the use of the current machine, we are trying to get them (health workers) to do more, so we have introduced three shifts, and are now able to do three times the amount of tests previously done,” said Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony during a special COVID-19 update on Saturday.
Increased testing, using the existing machine is, however, just the immediate approach, as government is also seeking to acquire automated machines, which would reduce the time taken to process a sample – it takes nine hours with the existing machine.
“We want to cut that time down significantly, by having an automated PCR machine… We have since ordered one such automated machine, and we believe it will cut the processing time from nine hours to about two hours, max,” said Dr. Anthony.
With the automated machines, authorities will be able to do about 96 tests in just two hours, and if there are several shifts, 500-800 tests could be completed easily in one day.
“We have placed that order, and we are negotiating how fast we can get it. But as soon as we get that, it will make a big difference,” said the health minister, adding that authorities have already started the preparatory work for storing the machine.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly-discovered coronavirus. Most people, who fall sick with COVID-19, will experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover without special treatment. There are, however, vulnerable groups such as persons with underlying conditions and elderly patients, who may develop severe forms of the disease.
Considering the infectious nature of the disease, Dr. Anthony said there will have to be certain conditions to ensure that testing is done safely and properly.
Although the automated machine will produce faster results, the tests will have to be done in a biohazard cabinet, so as to reduce the chances of contamination.