Coronavirus epicenter still in Southern Estonia

Terviseameti Lõuna regiooni juht Tiia Luht kardab, et Keeni kooli koldesse võib lisanduda veelgi nakatunuid. PHOTO: Sille Annuk

The coronavirus epicenter is in Southern Estonia. Head of Health Board South Tiia Luht told Postimees that epidemiological monitoring suggests the virus is spreading with the help of people who go to work or attend events while already exhibiting symptoms.

“People have become less vigilant and no longer stay home as soon as they exhibit the first symptoms,” Luht emphasized. The board’s coronavirus detectives often learn that people have gone to work or events after exhibiting light symptoms. “And so the virus spreads,” she added.

There are 29 separate outbreaks in Southern Estonia involving a total of 471 people. “Most are workplaces, plus eight family and six nursing home outbreaks,” Luht said. Family outbreaks usually start at events, such as weddings, birthday and bachelor’s parties.

Even though the southern region has a lot of workplace outbreaks, we are rather worried about nursing homes. “We have six nursing home outbreaks and over 100 infected between them,” Luht said. Employees usually bring in the infection. “There are cases where vaccinated employees get infected because the virus is in their family and bring the virus in,” the head of Health Board South said.

Deputy Director of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said regular testing of vaccinated staff should be considered, especially if they have had close contact with patients. Tiia Luht told Postimees that nursing homes test their employees. “Nursing homes are very careful also in terms of testing and know when employees have Covid patients at home. They are trying to cope. But it is difficult in the current situation,” she said.

A lot of working teams are quarantined today, while employers could offer preventive testing. Luht said that the virus has an easier time spreading in nursing homes because people are frailer there. “People in nursing homes already have a weakened immune system, with strict rules and effective use of personal protective among effective measures,” she explained.

Virus most common in Southern Estonia

The start of the school year has also produced several infections in schools. “We had an infected child on the first day of school. They went to school in the morning, got tested in the afternoon and were diagnosed by the same evening,” Luht said.

Health Board South has also found that people tend to believe the coronavirus does not spread at night. “Certain bars, entertainment establishments are full of people. Some places do check coronavirus certificates,” Luht said. The board has checked establishments on its own and with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) to demonstrate how to use rapid testing effectively. “But we still hear about places not checking certificates every now and then. I visited a restaurant in Tartu today and was not asked to produce my digital certificate or wear a mask,” Luht said.

Is it possible the spread of the virus will slow down in Southern Estonia in the near future? “I cannot see that happening. I remain pessimistic for the moment,” Luht said, adding that officials from Health Board East are lending a hand.

This week’s results of the University of Tartu wastewater coronavirus concentration survey suggest quantities of the virus are growing, with samples taken in Southern Estonia showing the greatest concentration. Harju and Ida-Viru counties are also exhibiting growth. Survey director, University of Tartu Professor of Antimicrobial Substances Tanel Tenson said quantities of the virus have grown almost everywhere, while Southern Estonia stands out in particular. “There are no positive trends to report. We cannot see far ahead, but the concentration of the virus is growing in Southern Estonia,” he said.

Delta not the last strain

Asked whether the outbreak could migrate to Central Estonia in a week, Tenson said it is very difficult to say. “But experience from past outbreaks suggests they do move around,” he emphasized. He recalled last fall when the initial outbreak in Harju and Ida-Viru counties had spread all over Estonia by February. Tenson said that while the Delta strain is currently dominating in Estonia, scientists are worried about new variants and early detection. “The Delta strain will not be the last for sure. New strains are coming from America and South Africa,” he told Postimees.