Martin Kadai, director of the Health Board's Emergency Medicine Department, said that as the novel coronavirus has begun spreading locally, from person to person, the Health Board decided to change its current strategy. Under the new strategy, the focus isn't on determining each individual case via testing, but rather focusing on severe cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
"While until now we have focused on each individual case, and informing and consulting the ill one by one, then going forward, we will focus on severe cases and move from handling individual cases to general recommendations," Kadai said at a Health Board press conference on Friday.
This means that each individual suspected of having the illness does not necessarily have to be tested for coronavirus, as if they are displaying symptoms of the disease, they must follow general quarantine guidelines anyway. Whether or not an individual should be tested for coronavirus will be up to individual healthcare institutions to decide.
"Hospitals won't test people to satisfy their curiosity — only in the case of specific indications," Kadai stressed. "Mass testing isn't a goal in its own right. Testing was the goal when we needed to stave off the disease, in order to determine an initial case. When a disease becomes widespread in a country, it isn't important to find and lab-confirm all cases."
What is important, he noted, is that people experiencing symptoms of illness — regardless of whether they have the coronavirus, the flu or some other seasonal infectious disease — avoid infecting healthy people and follow the rules introduced during the emergency situation declared by the Estonian government.
According to Kadai, all 41 people diagnosed with COVID-19 are displaying lighter and moderate symptoms, and none have required hospitalization. The virus has spread from those infected in Saaremaa to elsewhere in the country.
"The Health Board has not conducted such supervision over people; we have not been at their doors and we are not tracking them in any way," Kadai said, explaining that the agency is not keeping a special eye on those diagnosed with the disease. "We can't keep up with tracking everyone and calling everyone. The same recommendations apply to everyone: if someone is sick, then they cannot spread the disease; they are to remain at home, and consult with their family doctor by phone."
None of the people diagnosed with coronavirus disease have been confirmed as recovered; no repeat testing done within two weeks of falling ill has come up negative yet.
At-risk groups include people over the age of 60 as well as those with chronic illnesses, first and foremost with heart and cardiovascular diseases and those with immunodeficiency. Thus it is crucial that infectious diseases not reach those in hospitals, care homes and retirement homes. Visits to these facilities are currently banned, but employees are being monitored as well. Sick children should likewise not be placed in the care of their grandparents, regardless of what viral infection they may have, as infections could have very grave consequences for the elderly.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report based on the spread of the virus in China noted that the most common symptom of coronavirus disease is fever, which is present in 80-90 percent of cases. Some 60 percent of people have also had a cough. Symptoms may vary, but the primary indicator is the presence of a fever.
As the hypothesis exists that air temperature may be one reason why illnesses tend to spread seasonally particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, the hope is that the novel coronavirus will likewise retreat into becoming seasonal.
"The arrival of spring and summer will be the moment of truth regarding whether this virus will actually behave seasonally," Kadai said.
Those infected with the virus will also need to be monitored at greater length following their recovery to ensure that the virus has in fact left their system.
"We have determined with this virus that it persists in the body for quite some time," Kadai said. "An estimated seven days after symptoms go away is the safe period when one can return to work or school."
Editor: Aili Vahtla