Thursday | 02 April | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
Addressing South Africa on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country was entering a new phase in the fight against the Covid-19 virus. He said about 10 000 medical field workers would be deployed to visit homes in towns and cities, questioning all residents in order to determine if they show Covid-19 symptoms.
The medical workers will send persons showing symptoms to local clinics to be tested. People who test positive and experience minor symptoms may be put under quarantine at home or in government facilities, while those experiencing more serious symptoms will be admitted to hospitals.
According to Ramaphosa, mobile technology will be used to deploy an extensive tracing system to trace people who have been in contact with persons who have already tested positive for the virus. The system will monitor the geographic location of new cases.
To facilitate the field workers’ work and to ensure that as many people as possible are tested, the department of health has introduced new mobile units for sampling and testing as part of a major testing campaign that will be rolled out right across South Africa.
“In light of the increasing occurrence of local transmission of the Covid-19 virus it has become necessary to upscale capacity by testing citizens across the country,” said Zweli Mkhize, minister of health.
“The National Health Laboratory Service has purchased 60 mobile units for sampling and testing that may be deployed countrywide to all districts and metropolitan municipalities.”
Picture: Ferrial Haffajee / Twitter
The department started a trial run on Wednesday 1 April by applying a screening process in especially poor and densely populated residential areas. Staff members will go from door to door in order to determine if people should be tested for the virus. The trial runs started in Alexandra and it is envisaged to extend them to areas such as Diepsloot and Khayelitsha. The aim is to visit 10 homes per hour. The plan will then be adapted depending on the success achieved and according to changing needs.
At this stage it is still not clear whether the department will first focus on poorer and densely populated residential areas only and whether other residential areas will also be included at a later stage. It also is not clear yet whether every person is going to be tested or only those showing symptoms.
The tests currently being performed are known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR tests are based on tracing specific genetic material inside the virus. Depending on the type of PCR, health workers may take a swab from the back of the throat, a saliva sample or a liquid sample from the lower respiratory channel.
Pictures Ferrial Haffajee / Twitter
According to Mkhize, use will be made of GeneXpert tests in future when more tests may have to be conducted. Test results are available quicker and could be ready within 45 minutes. The GeneXpert test has already been approved by the American Food and Drug Administration.
The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has 180 GeneXpert analysts who will be ready across the country during the month.
The ministerial advisory committee is looking at all options and will soon reach consensus on what tests will be the best.
Mkhize also gave the assurance that the field workers visiting homes will receive the necessary protective gear and will be fully equipped.
The NHLS is also looking at possible suppliers to provide more PCR tests.
What should I do if testing staff arrive at my home?
According to Paul Mardon, Solidarity’s Deputy General Secretary for Strategy and Sustainability, who also specialises in occupational safety, the following should be done:
- Do not simply open the gate or door for the testing staff. Ask them to identify themselves and make sure they are official testers.
- As far as possible, maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between the testers and the person being tested.
- Prior to testing, the testing staff should, in the presence of the person being tested, don their gloves and masks or visibly disinfect their hands, or both.
- The testing staff should wear masks when talking to or working on the persons being tested.
- The testing staff should disinfect the instrument they use to take the person’s temperature, for example.
- It is not enough for the testing staff merely to put on gloves, because the gloves could have been infected at a previously visited home. They should either remove new gloves from the packaging in the presence of the person being tested, or work without gloves and disinfect their hands in the presence of such person.
- Immediately after testing, the persons tested should again disinfect their hands and any parts of their body that have been touched.
The government has provided the following security measures:
- The testers should have and show identification signs.
- The testers should wear identical T-shirts.
- The testers should have their RSA identity document on them and show it on demand.
- The testers should be accompanied by a police officer. In this regard, all the rules in respect of a police officer on duty are applicable, for instance that he/she should be in uniform with a name tag and that he/she should be able to produce a certificate of appointment.
- Lastly, it has been indicated that the COVID-19 testing may be done outside a person’s home. The meaning of “outside a person’s home” is not clear, but owing to the nature of the proposed testing procedure I am of the opinion that people being tested at home may not even have to open their gates if the test can be performed through the gate.
Solidarity wishes to repeat that at this stage it is not clear what areas in addition to poorer and more densely populated areas are going to be visited. If you are unsure about this, we suggest that you contact the department of health in this regard on the following number: 0800 029 999
* All information was correct at the time of publication.