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Western Cape health workers given priority for Covid-19 test results

20 May 2020 - 18:35 By Tanya Farber
Health workers in the Western Cape will be moved to the front of the queue for Covid-19 testing.
Health workers in the Western Cape will be moved to the front of the queue for Covid-19 testing.
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Health workers in the Western Cape will be bumped to the top of the list to get results for their Covid-19 tests. So will those with comorbidities presenting at hospitals, as the province moves to a more targeted approach in its response to the Covid-19 crisis.

This announcement, made by premier Alan Winde in a virtual conference on Wednesday afternoon, comes as the province experienced a fifth death of a frontline worker from the virus.

Winde said the province would now turn to “streamline testing and contact tracing to focus on high-risk groups like health workers and vulnerable people”, with testing and lab capacity currently “under severe strain”, which slowed results.

“Our health workers are our most useful resource, so exposed health workers' results must come back within 24 hours because it affects the work health force,” he said.

“The second priority is the people that are likely to present themselves to emergency units in hospitals - people with comorbidities. Testing them as they present at a health facility is crucial. They then become ‘persons under investigation’.”

The stats show that 66% of positive cases have been people younger than 55 with no comorbidities, but these cases require less support and mainly see patients recovering on their own at home.

Dr Keith Cloete, the head of the Western Cape department of health, said that “local transmission was speeded up in the province” ahead of the other provinces, and had its uptake during the period around April 14.

“We are earlier than other provinces, but there is nothing different about us in terms of spread,” he said, adding that the province now has “a very detailed database on the clusters” that fuelled it.

This included, amongst others, retail outlets, police stations and correctional services facilities.

The virus had been concentrated in essential services clusters and care homes, and had then travelled back to the geographical areas where workers in those sectors live - areas that are “the most vulnerable communities in Cape Town”, said Cloete.

Those areas have now been prioritised for intervention, he added.

Transmission in local communities has been particularly rife in Khayelitsha, followed by Tygerberg, the Western district and then the Eastern district.

With detailed data becoming available, it has emerged that the southern part of Khayelitsha - near the N2 between Mew Way and Spine Road - was one hotspot, while the northern part of Baden Powell in Khayelitsha, linked to Mitchells Plain, was another.

Winde said the “hotspot” strategy being adopted by the province was presented to the minister of health last Saturday, and now that the country is facing the prospect of 40,000 deaths just this year, the Western Cape's approach could inform other provinces' responses.