Data shows Western Cape Covid-19 cases are dropping
The Western Cape has not only passed its Covid-19 peak but the dreaded “long plateau” seems to have given way to a steady decline in cases, according to data presented during a provincial government press briefing on Wednesday.
Provincial head of health Dr Keith Cloete said sequencing of viral strands showed that during February and early March there were already about nine cases of local transmission, which helped to explain why the Western Cape was the first province to peak.
“There has now been a release of scientific reports that the sequencing of early cases show that there were at least nine separate community transmission events in late February early March, preceding the travel restrictions and lockdown,” he said.
“This is useful scientific proof, because of the genotyping of the virus, that helps us explain that we started earlier, and we are maturing earlier than the rest of the country.”
Cloete presented graphs which showed a sustained plateauing and the early signs of a decline across several indicators, including the number of deaths, the availability of hospital beds, and the tonnes of oxygen used.
“On both private and public sector testing there’s been a recent decline in tests being done. We haven’t changed our testing regiment, so for the same criteria of people we’ve been testing there’s been a reduction in the demand for tests from the same group of people,” he said.
Tests were restricted to hospital patients, health care staff, and people over 55 years old with comorbidities.
Test positivity rates — of those testing for Covid-19 returning a positive result — have also declined from 40% to 30%.
Cloete said the data showed that the Western Cape reached its peak at the end of June and the beginning of July.
“The big thing that we check against our planning scenarios was the assumption that was made public three weeks ago that towards July we are going to have what we at the time called a longer, slower and extended peak, which was supposed to go from the end of June into the end of July and beginning of August,” he said.
“What we’ve seen in real terms is that our hospitalisation had a plateauing from more or less the last week in June.”
He said there are more hospital beds available now due to a gradual easing in hospitalisations.
“In both public and private sector critical care there has been a recent decline. They have more capacity now over the past two to three weeks, rather than going up.”
Oxygen use per day across the province’s health care centres peaked at about 30 tonnes per day by the end of June, but that figure is also on the decline — and so are reported deaths.
Cloete said the province is comparing their data with data collected by the Medical Research Council (SAMRC). In their modelling, they have included deaths they expect to find when doing further lab analysis on reported natural deaths in the province.
“The medical research council are tracking what they call excess natural deaths which according to home affairs have been registered in the country,” he said.
“Because we’ve had fewer deaths over the last week, we will compare again to their home affairs deaths access report today to see how we correlate, because we are correlating with them additional deaths of patients with laboratory diagnoses of Covid-19 [that] are now being confirmed through ID number linkage to the population register.”
This means that every person who dies due to natural causes can be investigated and tracked through their ID numbers to find out how they died.
“They are also asking us to see if some of the excess deaths are in non-Covid-19 cases — are there an increase in other deaths like TB or HIV that aren’t Covid-19 related cases?”
Peculiar and surprising patterns are also emerging from the data collected by the province, which could help SA understand how the pandemic spreads.
Across the Western Cape, different places are following different trends. Some had local transmissions later than the Cape Town Metro, such as the Garden Route district or the Central Karoo — both areas that are still showing an upward trend in infections.
But even in the Cape Town Metro, places that were once the epicentres of the pandemic in Cape Town, such as Khayelitsha and Klipfontein, were the first to lead the downward trend.
“In Klipfontein and Khayelitsha there are now clear signs of a decline in deaths. In Tygerberg there has been a slower decline of deaths,” said Cloete.
“It’s a very interesting phenomenon that areas which are close to each other are experiencing different rates. There are different patterns for the pandemic in different places — if death is a reflection of how the pandemic is growing over time.”
Cloete said the department was cautiously optimistic that the province was passed its peak, but added that there was a need for long-term behavioural change if they are to avert a second wave of infections.