Every tenth coronavirus patient does not know who infected them

Mari-Anne Härma.
Mari-Anne Härma. Source: ERR

Over the past 24 hours, 21 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Estonia. While the Health Board is unable to track down the source of infection for every tenth patient, the agency's acting head Mari-Anne Härma told "Aktuaalne kaamera" in an interview that the situation will become critical if the source of half of infections cannot be determined.

The Health Board's morning press releases list the source of infection as unknown in most cases. How often does it prove impossible to determine that source?

In fewer than 10 percent of cases. We do not yet know by the time of the morning press release because work on those cases is just starting, with most sources found by the end of the day. Some close contacts are reported a few days later as people cannot remember everything on the same day. There are also people who are reluctant to say where they caught the virus.

Head of the infectiology department of Latvia's Center for Disease Control and Prevention Jurijs Perevošcikovs recently told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that the situation remains in hand if most patients know where they might have gotten the virus. Tougher restrictions are in order should the number of so-called blind cases grow. If today, every tenth patient doesn't know where they were infected, starting where should Estonia introduce tougher measures?

It would definitely have to be more than every tenth person. My guess would be every other person. If we don't know the source for half of patients, things are very bad.

Where is the situation most critical in terms of new cases?

The situation is not critical in any region, while the infection rate is slightly higher in Tartu County and Ida-Viru County. The Jõhvi Kelder bar is the biggest single pocket today, but the contacts of people who were there have been mapped out. We are waiting for more people to come down with the disease from there.

How big could the Jõhvi outbreak become?

We do not believe it will be extensive. People know each other in a small place, meaning that information travels fast and those who feel they could be infected can associate it with that pocket. They will turn to their doctor or contact the Health Board directly.

Determining the chain of infection is very important in the case of the coronavirus. The Health Board is currently monitoring over 600 people. What is the critical limit where the board is forced to admit it is no loner able to determine the chain?

It all depends not just on the number of people that patients have been in contact with but also how easy it is to contact them, as well as how long it takes to find a single person.

During the peak of the crisis in March and April, we had over 90 new cases every day. Back then, the Health Board was nearing full utilization of its resources. We also need to keep in mind that other activities were suspended and the board's resources, normally used to inspect the quality of drinking water or schools, were redirected to handle COVID-19. We would reach capacity sooner today, but the government has secured us additional funding, we have found new people and have agreements in place with help from other agencies.

Still, at what point would you be forced to admit it's no longer physically possible to stay on top of things?

We are nowhere near that point today.

How long does it currently take the Health Board to determine an outbreak source and stop the chain of infection?

It was a larger and more complicated outbreak in Tartu. Young people are reluctant to accept calls from anonymous numbers, which often means it takes the board longer to track them down. It all depends on how many cases an inspector can handle daily.

What are the main ways people get infected today?

For a time, it was common to catch the disease at parties, whether we're talking about bars, birthdays, family gatherings. The second most common way is catching COVID-19 from family members, people who have attended those parties. Thirdly, we have work contacts; people infecting their colleagues by not staying home in time.

Some cases come from abroad. Which countries currently seem to be exporting the virus?

Very different countries all over Europe. We cannot make a clear distinction here. We are seeing COVID-19 from the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia, also Finland.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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