Kasaragod District Collector D Sajith Babu speaks to TNM on how the district planned its strategy with the Health department to face the COVID-19 crisis.

55-day quarantine for COVID-19 Kasaragod Collector speaks on different approach
Coronavirus Coronavirus Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 14:44
On a particular day, 39 COVID-19 cases were reported from Kasaragod, making it the district with the majority of cases in Kerala. A hundred and seventy-five cases have been reported from the district till Tuesday, the highest in the state. But currently only 14 patients are under treatment in the district while all others have recovered.
 
Eighty-nine patients were discharged from the Kasaragod General Hospital, the last one on Tuesday. A few others are under treatment at the Kasaragod Medical College and at the Pariyaram Medical College. With a high NRI population and every possibility of community spread, Kasaragod was able to flatten the curve.
 
On April 18, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal, appreciated the district for its efficient containment plan and implementation.
 
Kasaragod District Collector D Sajith Babu speaks to TNM on how the district planned its strategy with the Health department to face the COVID-19 crisis.
 
How did you manage not to reach the panic point, which is the fear of community spread?
 
We had prepared and expected community spread by March 20. That was the day we got the test results for our second patient. From patient 2, the fourth, fifth and sixth patients contracted the infection. They were his mother, wife and child. The seventh patient had travelled with patient 2 in a car for 20 minutes. Overall, patient 2 had 46 primary contacts. We put them up in a hotel. As we feared, 23 among them turned out to be positive. But we had anticipated it.
 
The second patient’s father was a social worker and if he was infected, at least 4,500 people would have been quarantined. It is lucky that he did not get the infection.
 
Did the limited medical facilities in the district become a problem in your fight?
 
There are only two ventilators in the Kasaragod General Hospital. That was a huge problem as one of the major symptoms of COVID-19 is breathlessness. So we had to take comorbidity (one or more additional conditions occurring together with a primary condition) groups to Pariyaram Medical College.
 
We realised that if we approach our duty with passion then there are no challenges. We set up a medical college within four days. We were given one month’s time to hand over land for the new TATA hospital here. We did that within 10 days.
 
There will be a massive development in Kasaragod’s health sector soon. We will be starting dialysis units in all our Community Health Centres at the earliest. We are inaugurating one in Mangalpady next week. Within two months all community centres will have dialysis units. No patient will have to depend on Mangaluru or Kannur for dialysis hereafter.
 
Kasaragod did not use route maps unlike other districts, why was that?
 
Tracing contacts of patients worked in some districts. But we had a different method. Route maps are needed only when a patient doesn’t disclose his travel details and we need the public’s help to trace the contacts. But in our district, this was not necessary. Our patients had come directly to us from airports after landing. We also had a proper system to trace people who broke quarantine.
 
We had ward level Jan jagratha samithi in every ward, comprising a ward member, Jan maithri police, Asha worker and a junior health inspector. So we were informed if anyone broke quarantine, and such people were shifted to government quarantine centres.
 
How else was your strategy different from other districts?
 
Even from the beginning we followed 55-day quarantine for those exposed to the virus. People who returned from abroad on February 20 were asked to remain in quarantine till April 14. Our district was the first to implement lockdown in Kerala. When the Janata Curfew was announced on March 22, that very night we introduced CrPC 144.
 
Every alternate day I’d go live on Facebook, clarify doubts from the public, give them necessary information so that there is transparent communication.
 
 Above all people cooperated very well, that was really important. In cases where we were doubtful, we shifted them to government quarantine instead of home quarantine. From March 20 onwards we introduced the concept of ‘Room quarantine’, we didn’t refer to it as ‘home quarantine’. In the first phase we had planned and arranged facilities to accommodate 300 patients. In the second phase we had planned for double the number of patients. We had a comprehensive plan.
 
The virus can remain in the environment only for certain amount of time, so our lockdown relaxation time was 11 am to 5 pm, the rest of the time no one was allowed to go out. So the chances of the virus spreading was reduced. Also most of our patients were young and had less complications, so we were able to manage it.
 
Kasaragod had started testing early?
 
Ever since the first person (who came from Wuhan) tested positive for coronavirus in the state, we started testing even asymptomatic people. Many told us it was not necessary, but we did. I have a doctorate in Agriculture, I have studied a bit on virology. Moreover, it was a collective decision to conduct tests even from then. That helped us immensely in stemming the surge.
 
What next, when borders open and special flights resume?
 
Within 3-4 days, all patients from the district would have recovered. But once people start coming from abroad, numbers may increase again.
 
However, we are well-planned and equipped to manage once the borders open. We have our strategy and containment plan ready for people who come from abroad. We can’t reveal our plan as of now or disclose the method of quarantine we’re planning to follow, but we’re all set.
 
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