Health Board: A lot of COVID-19 cases caused by people going to work sick

Mari-Anne Härma
Mari-Anne Härma Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 grew by 61 on Saturday. Acting head of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma says concerns are warranted as people coming to work sick is what is causing the outbreak.

Did the Saturday case rate of 61 people take the board by surprise?

It did and it didn't. We know that if we have a lot of registered close contacts, we might end up with a lot of new cases. It is a littles startling if they all happen on the same day. Most new cases from today (Saturday – ed.) are close contacts of previously diagnosed persons.

Are we seeing first and second tier close contacts so to speak or is the disease now spreading beyond that before the chain of infection is broken?

Tier two is where it is happening today. We are seeing some tier three infections in the case of protracted outbreaks in Ida-Viru Country for example.

Head of the board's eastern regional department said a few days ago that they have hidden spread of the coronavirus. Do these new figures mean that the virus has started spreading beyond what we can identify?

Hidden spread can be seen in stages. Should we see higher numbers of people who do not know where they got the virus, we could perhaps say that we have a hidden outbreak. There are some major outbreaks in Ida-Viru County we've not managed to connect, there are some suspicions there. But we cannot talk about hidden spread in Estonia as such at this time.

Can we say the situation is critical, looking at Saturday figures? Did we even have days with so many new cases in spring?

We had worse days in spring. If in spring, we saw a spike in the number of people hospitalized that was soon followed by deaths, people being hit harder by the disease, what we're seeing today is still decidedly milder.

I would not describe the situation as critical, but the rate at which we are registering new close contacts of infected people, especially in Harju County, is troubling. What concerns me is this trend of people with symptoms showing up for work, thinking they just have a cold. It has become a problem mostly in Tallinn.

Whereas the problem is not with people who are only starting to feel down, but those who go to work with full-blown symptoms and create small outbreaks that turn into family outbreaks etc. That is the picture we're seeing in terms of infection in Tallinn. We also do not always know who we've been in contact with, which is why use of the Hoia coronavirus mobile application is highly recommended. The more we use it, the faster it can help us identify close contacts.

Looking at the Saturday figure, will we see it jump from 61 to 120 and then to 240 in the coming weeks?

We can't really say that. It depends on how many close contacts people have and how many will take ill. There are cases where a COVID-19 patient infects no one in their family and there are also cases where the entire family and the neighbors come down with it. What comes next depends on people's behavior.

Is the situation in Tallinn serious enough to start considering additional restrictions?

My recommendation today is to cancel all private parties in Tallinn and Harju County, be more responsible when organizing major indoor events by ensuring dispersion. Indoor entertainment could be reorganized in Harju County.

What would send the alarm bells ringing at the Health Board?

We have different scenarios with different bells. But flags will surely go up should we see a spike in the number of people who need to be hospitalized, considerable spread of the virus among healthcare workers or a situation where many of them cannot work. Those are the most serious risk scenarios for us.

Considering that we're only just moving into autumn and the flu season hasn't even begun yet, will we have resources for testing everyone with a cough and a runny nose in October and November?

We have enough resources for testing. It could happen that the board is too busy to call all close contacts in which case we will use call robots. Major outbreaks that produce a lot of close contacts at once could overwhelm us in terms of our capacity to reach out, which is why people should not be afraid to take calls from robots. Just take the call and listen to what it has to say. If you receive such a call, it means we are dealing with an outbreak that concerns a lot of close contacts.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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