'Underlying health conditions' driving high Covid-19 death rate in Cape

12 May 2020 - 10:27 By TimesLIVE
Passengers arrive from Hong Kong at Cape Town International Airport after the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Of the 106 people known to have died of Covid-19 in the Western Cape, 94% had existing health conditions. File photo.
Passengers arrive from Hong Kong at Cape Town International Airport after the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Of the 106 people known to have died of Covid-19 in the Western Cape, 94% had existing health conditions. File photo.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

More than 65% of Covid-19 deaths in the Western Cape — which accounts for half of all deaths in the country — affected people with two or more underlying health conditions such as tuberculosis, HIV and diabetes.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Monday there were 10,652 positive cases across SA and 206 recorded deaths. He said 106 of those deaths were in the Western Cape.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said on Monday that only 6% of known Covid-19 deaths in the province had no comorbidities (underlying health conditions). 

Pupils from Nomzamo Primary School outside Cape Town received food parcels from the Gift of the Givers on May 7 2020. The school's principal, Thandeka Hazel Fandese, said children in the area were pleading for food as they had been struggling since the start of the lockdown.

“Our health experts have studied further data provided by our hospitals, especially private health care facilities where people have died, as part of our continued rigorous data-led approach,” he said in a statement. “We can therefore further update the media that only 6% of known Covid-19 deaths in the Western Cape had no comorbidities. More than 65% of patients who died had more than two comorbidities.”

However, Winde cautioned that though vulnerable groups appeared to be most at risk to contract the virus, it did not mean those who were younger or in good health should not worry.

“Not only could you help spread the virus, and infect someone who is vulnerable, you could also get seriously ill, or even die, as has been the case in rare circumstances. It is worth reiterating that we cannot avoid this virus. Many of us will become infected.”

Mkhize said at the weekend that an unusual aspect of the Western Cape outbreak was that clusters of cases had been linked to factories and shops.

“They have been acted upon. Now we must be vigilant to pick up any new cases that are coming through,” he said.

Between 24% and 30% of tests conducted in SA were being done in the Western Cape, he said, and they were producing a positivity rate of about 70%.

Winde said the provincial cabinet had on Monday approved a hotspot strategy to tackle the virus in Cape Town.

“The Western Cape understands that a blunt, one-size-fit-all approach for the entire province, when some regions have few cases and others have high transmission, is neither sustainable nor effective. We need to be more flexible and innovative,” he said.

TimesLIVE followed Dr Fallin van Rooyen on her night shift on the frontline of Mitchells Plain District Hospital's emergency centre. According to Van Rooyen, gunshot traumas and stabbings have “reduced dramatically” since the ban on alcohol was introduced. During the month of February, before lockdown, the emergency centre saw 245 trauma patients coming through their doors. However, a month after lockdown, by April 27, that number almost halved to 128.

“We have therefore adopted an evidence-based, data-led approach to our pandemic response that drills down below subdistrict level, to understand the transmission of the virus within particular geographical areas.”

Hotspots are regarded as areas with many cases, where community transmission was well entrenched and accelerating.

The targeted hotspot plan included:

  • A health response featuring case management, community screening and testing, and the appropriate referrals for quarantine and isolation.
  • An economic response such as helping and mapping businesses, ensuring social distancing in the workplace and places of economic activity, and following workplace protocols.
  • A safety response including police and city traffic and law enforcement.
  • A food security and humanitarian response including the departments of agriculture and social development, and city initiatives.
  • A “places and spaces” response led by the department of human settlement and interventions in informal areas; and
  • A transport and public response around the movement of people and public transport.

X