Health Dpt limits covid testing to over-60s, the seriously ill and pregnant women

Isolation only required at nursing homes

4 min
Large people in the common room of the Prat residence, in Tona, in an image from April, at the height of the crisis.

BarcelonaStarting next Monday, covid diagnostic efforts will focus on protecting the population most vulnerable to the virus: the elderly, the over-60s, people with serious illnesses (e.g. immunodepressed) and pregnant women. After the Spanish Ministry of Health approved the elimination of quarantines for asymptomatic or mildly ill people, the Generalitat has announced that from next week, people with symptoms compatible with coronavirus who do not suffer from any condition which makes them vulnerable will not need to be tested at their health centre or, if they self-diagnosed, to undergo strict isolation, although it is recommended that they stay at home until symptoms subside.

General population

Symptomatic under-60s should avoid contact with vulnerable people and not participate in mass events

The Catalan Department of Health recommends that people with mild covid symptoms, whether or not they have taken a self-diagnostic text and who are under 60 years of age, stay at home until symptoms disappear, as they would with any other respiratory virus. They should also maximise personal protective measures. Although they no longer have to maintain the strict ten-day home quarantine, it is important that they reduce their social interactions as much as possible – especially if they have vulnerable contacts – and that they use a face mask at all times if they have symptoms and need to leave the house.

In the case of close contacts, there is no longer any need for them to be tested or quarantined. In fact, the Deputy Director General of Public Health Surveillance and Emergency Response, Jacobo Mendioroz, explained that health authorities, through track and trace, will no longer actively identify contacts as before. Specific action will no longer be taken to detect cases in schools either.

Some exceptions will be made in specific cases for epidemiological background. The Health Dpt will test people coming from a country where a new variant of special interest or concern has been discovered and whose circulation has not yet been detectedin Catalonia. Testing will be performed if the person has travelled to said country in the 14 days prior to arrival. At the moment there are no countries for which such an alert exists.

Vulnerable population and risk environments

PCRs are maintained before surgeries and for health professionals who have symptoms

Part of the population can (and should) still be tested if they have symptoms compatible with coronavirus: over-60s, people with severe diseases – such as cancers – and receiving immunosuppressive treatments, and pregnant women. People under immunosuppression suffering from covid will be isolated for 21 days and serial antigen tests will be performed every 24 or 48 hours until they come back negative.

This group also includes workers in hospitals and homes for the elderly, because they are in close contact with fragile people, and for this reason screening will be maintained for patients who have to be admitted to hospitals for surgery, as well as for the elderly and employees who enter nursing homes for the first time. All this is aimed at protecting these sensitive areas and preventing outbreaks, according to the authorities.

Care homes

Elderly people will be isolated until they test negative in an antigen test, but for a maximum of ten days

Care homes receive a separate mention in the Public Health protocol due to their users' extreme vulnerability. In this case, instructions for testing and isolation are different from the rest of the population. If there is any suspicion that an elderly person has coronavirus, they will be tested. If it comes back negative on the first day, the test will be repeated on the third day to confirm the negative result. In the meantime, they will have to be isolated for five days. Until now, this quarantine lasted ten days. If the test comes back positive, serial antigen tests will be performed (every 24 or 48 hours) until the test is negative. If no symptoms have been present for at least 24 hours, the quarantine can be terminated. These quarantines may not exceed ten days.

This same protocol also extends to professionals working at care homes. "With the current epidemiological situation, control of the transmission of respiratory viruses now involves limiting the exposure of vulnerable people. Therefore, we will limit isolation and quarantines to vulnerable areas," explained Mendioroz.

Sick leave from work

It will be given only by general practitioners and only health workers will be granted sick leave with a self-diagnosis test

With this new protocol, the processing of sick leave due to covid will also return to normal, as explained by the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas. As of next Monday, sick leave can only be given by a GP, who is the one who (as with all pathologies) will assess whether or not to grant it. "If you need sick leave because you cannot work due to your symptoms, you will need to contact your healthcare system, which will make a clinical assessment and will grant you sick leave," Cabezas explained. The only people who can access sick leave by means of a self-diagnosis test will be healthcare professionals.

Cabezas explained that the change in the coronavirus control strategy comes after the sixth wave has stabilised and a very high proportion of the population is immunised, either by having overcome the infection of the omicron variant in recent months or by getting vaccinated. "Eighty-seven percent of those over 16 years of age have the complete schedule and 54% have had the booster dose," he pointed out. The aim of these changes, which include the Ministry of Health guidelines, is to normalise the pandemic and to be able to adapt the detection and surveillance systems of respiratory viruses so that the health system can recover its usual activity, such as the control of chronic and severe diseases.