Only people in risk groups to be tested for coronavirus

Most people will not know if they have COVID-19.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Testing for the novel coronavirus will still primarily concern people over the age of 60 and people with chronic illness. Everyone else who suspects they have the virus will have to go on living in uncertainty and are expected to contact their family doctor should symptoms flare up. Universities say they are willing to lend a hand if only anyone would ask.

“Testing needs to lead to decisions or activity,” said Martin Kadai, head of the Health Board’s emergency medicine department, when asked about the decision to only test people in risk groups. Kadai added that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and testing people who do not belong to risk groups for the virus would change nothing in terms of what they are recommended to do – stay home, avoid close contact with people – or treatment that would still concentrate on alleviating symptoms.

Testing will be available for people being treated in hospitals, the elderly, those with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems, healthcare workers and employees of social welfare institutions. Random testing of people not exhibiting symptoms but who are on the front line of combating the virus will also take place.

500-600 tests a day

Testing is limited due to excessive workload of ambulances and laboratories already working on full capacity.

The ability to test for the virus exists in Health Board, Tartu University Hospital, Synlab, North Estonia Medical Center, Ida-Viru Central Hospital and Pärnu Hospital laboratories. By yesterday morning, 2,020 tests had been administered for an average of 500-600 a day.

The state is working with the private sector for increased capacity for testing. It has been decided that testing will only be available for people belonging to risk groups who need to be referred by their family physician.

Research fellow at the Tallinn University of Technology’s chemistry and biotechnology institute Kristel Vege said that while their laboratory could not test for the virus because it lacks the necessary certificates for offering medical services, the university would still like to help and is willing to lend other institutions its equipment and staff. “Every trained gene technician could handle these tests, but for some reason, we have neither been asked for help nor have our offers to help been accepted. We also do not understand what is standing in the way of more extensive testing in Health Board laboratories,” she added.

The University of Tartu said it is still trying to determine its potential capacity for analyzing COVID-19 tests.

Another problem is global shortage of personal protection and testing equipment. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that Estonia should receive 20,000 new tests on Friday and currently has a little over 10,000 tests.

Drive-in testing in Saaremaa ended

The Health Board has also explained the decision to stop testing everyone who exhibits symptoms by saying that people tested too early for the virus to show up in results might be given false reassurance that they’re healthy. That was also one of the reasons it asked the Kuressaare Hospital to stop so-called drive-in testing of people.

Kuressaare ER nurse Angela Siinor was critical of the decision and wrote the following in local paper Saarte Hääl. “The Health Board’s claim that our work was risky because we tested healthy people only shows lack of interest in our efforts. None of the people we tested were healthy. We followed the board’s instructions to the letter. People were told to remain isolated at home irrespective of test results.” Drive-in testing in Kuressaare was ended on Monday. It turned out the next day that there would be no option to pay for testing in Saaremaa. “I believe that people who have contracted the virus and those who have been in contact with them have the right to be tested. The entire world is producing statistics. It is sad to see the Health Board ignore scientific advice,” she wrote.

Martin Kadai said that drive-in testing in Saaremaa was positive as it managed people’s anxiety. “We knew that there was a local outbreak in Saaremaa. Many were worried and could confirm having been infected. However, these are generally mild cases of the disease,” Kadai said.