Misc 19/10/2020

Catalonia to reach 500 covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 10 days

Health department to promote self-testing among high school students and care workers

Gemma Garrido Granger
4 min
Un zelador ahir portant una camilla a l’Hospital de Bellvitge, poc després de l’aval del TSJC a les restriccions del Govern.

Santa Coloma de GramenetThe epidemic will continue to grow in Catalonia and mathematical models already predict that in ten days the number of cases will rise to 500 per 100,000 inhabitants. The Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya estimates that the critical threshold could be reached within a week or ten days, a prediction that has already been communicated to the Government so that, if necessary, the appropriate measures can be taken. Epidemiological growth is widespread in Catalonia and the cumulative incidence - diagnoses in the last 14 days - exceeds 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. From 1 to 14 October, about 330 people were infected throughout the country.

Madrid's precedent is frightening: the region, where a week ago there were over 500 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, still registers 452 cases despite the state of alarm. The predictions for Catalonia are therefore worrying, since the acceleration of the pandemic is almost immediate and, in contrast, controlling the curve is a slow and complex process. Despite the restrictions in force throughout Catalonia, Clara Prats, a physicist and researcher at BIOCOM-SC, expects that for the time being there will be no reduction in the number of cases. The driving force behind the epidemic at the moment is the population aged between 20 and 29, as "they are asymptomatic but more contagious", and the average age of those infected is 39.5 years, with no difference by gender.

The drip of cases continues and the need to break transmission chains is more important than ever. Diagnosis is key, which has led the department for health to announce this Sunday that it will begin to distribute covid-19 self-testing kits in care homes and secondary schools across the country to "gain speed" in the detection of new positives. Students and care workers will be encouraged to take nasal samples. Alba Vergés, head of the department of health, explained that, in both cases, a professional will supervise the procedure and then incorporate the samples into the usual analysis circuit

Vergés specified that it is a "simple" procedure, which takes about ten minutes. As well as these tests, the health department will use PCRs, the test of choice, and antigen tests, which it will start using today in health centres and hospitals removed from urban centers, in order to improve the tracking of the virus.

The Catalan department of health estimates that, thanks to the auto-detection system, Catalonia will be able to perform 24,000 more tests per day than the 30,000 per day that are currently carried out. Self-sampling is already beeing tested this week in schools in Girona and among care workers in the Vallès area and Barcelona. Progressively, the strategy will be implemented throughout Catalonia, said Vergés, who has stated that the care home staff will be tested every two or three weeks.

Pressure on health centres

Because of the acceleration in detected cases, the risk of a major outbreak (the indicator that assesses the growth of the epidemic for the next 14 days) is soaring. After weeks of uninterrupted growth, on Sunday the potential growth rate exceeded 406 points and is already at the highest value in the second wave so far. In its latest daily update, the department of health has reported a total of 2,759 new positives and 16 more deaths.

"The information from the authorities often tries to calm the level of social alarm, but we have a widespread community transmission that makes adopting surgical measures in territories impractical: we are in a critical situation and that is why critical measures are being taken," explains Àlex Arenas, a physicist and researcher from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili. This intense spread is show itself in hospitals: pressure is rising, with 213 patients in intensive care units, the highest number in recent weeks. Also, the total number of covid hospitalizations, whether serious or not, recently passed the psychological barrier of one thousand admissions and now stands at 1,218.

But where the healthcare is really suffering is in primary care, which is dealing with most of cases despite a very small staff, while other pathologies are at risk of being neglected. The health authorities are clear on the issue: the system cannot be left to collapse. Arenas was critical: "Neither the population nor the experts can know for sure the level of stress in primary healthcare, because there are no public indicators, which do exist for hospitalizations. We need to know the number of people who go there every day, how many can be treated and how many are really treated to know if they are saturated," insists the researcher, who concludes that "we are in the dark" and will only know that it has collapsed when it is too late.

Stopping the surge

The restrictions that have been deployed this week should be able to help control the curve: they won't flatten it, but they can slow down its rise. In this sense, Vergés has once again asked citizens to only do "what is essential" outside the home and to try to avoid social interaction as much as possible, maintaining coexistence bubbles in order to minimise the pressure on the health system and its professionals. "We cannot afford to stop non-cavid care", stressed Vergés, who added that "we can go to school, high school or work, but we have to avoid contact as much as possible.

As restrictions imposed by the Government to curb social activity came into force this weekend, the epidemiological curve for Catalonia reached a new peak. Between 8 and 14 October, which is the most recent week considered reliable for interpreting the trend, a total of 137,635 PCRs were performed and 14,054 cases of coronavirus were detected. Therefore, just over 10% of PCRs have been positive, double the recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to control the covid-19 curve and twice the percentage recorded in the country as a whole in mid-September (6%).

Currently, the infection rate, which measures the speed of virus reproduction in the last seven days, stands at 1.30, a value slightly lower than those recorded in the last few days. Yet every new case generates, on average, more than one infection. In an interview with Catalunya Ràdio on Sunday, Arenas asserted that it is necessary to reduce mobility for 1.5 million people: "Those who can work from home must work from home". He also stated that large groups should be avoided "in all the places where we socialize" and that, in order to slow contagion, ventilation is crucial, especially at home, which is where people tend to relax.