MUMBAI: Almost 50% of Maharashtra’s 36 districts have a positivity rate that is higher than the state average, underlining that testing is suboptimal in many areas and transmission rates high.
Maharashtra’s 7-day average positivity rate was 22.5% in the week ending May 11. Positivity rate in seven districts — Ahmednagar, Beed, Buldhana, Parbhani, Satara, Sindhudurg, and Nashik—was more than 30%. In another 10, including Sangli, Jalna, Hingoli, it was 23-27%. Only Jalgaon had a weekly positivity of less than 10%. Mumbai, with 14.3%, was among six districts with less than 15% positivity.
Positivity is a function of the quantum of tests and sampling population. Districts with a high rate must broaden their coverage to screen more individuals who may be high risk contacts of patients or vulnerable in other ways. Unless the local administration carries out random testing in public places or containment zones, it is unlikely to widen its base. Spread the net to detect or rule out infections — that should be the motto to successfully chase the virus.
A high positivity rate is an indicator of fewer tests being done. A large number of those being tested in such scenarios are likely to be those showing symptoms or admitted to hospitals, while the pre- or asymptomatic go undetected and thus carry the risk of spreading the infection.
Numbers show the state has been carrying out an average 2.3 lakh tests though there was a dip in second week of May. On May 10, the number dropped to 1.9 lakh.
Ahmednagar has state’s highest 7-day positivity rate at 40%
Hingoli, Palghar, Buldhana, Nandurbar and Dhule are doing less than one lakh tests per million. Officials attributed the drop to factors such as shortage of antigen kits and redeployment of health workers for the vaccination drive.
Epidemiologist Dr Giridhara Babu said states cannot afford to reduce testing at this stage. “A sudden drop in tests can result in lack of clarity on actual number of cases,” he said, adding Karnataka, Assam and Kerala were also seeing a decline in testing.
Dr Pradeep Awate, state’s surveillance officer, said a decline in cases may have marginally reduced testing since the number of high risk and low risk contacts have reduced. “In the first wave, we never crossed 1 lakh tests in a day, but in the second wave, we touched almost 3 lakh tests,” he said, adding there was no slowdown in testing.
A report presented to the cabinet showed Ahmednagar had the highest weekly positivity rate (40%). Civic surgeon Dr Sunil Pokharna blamed it on a drop in daily testing due to shortage of antigen kits.
“We are getting supplies in the next few days and tests will increase to 20,000,” he said. The district has seen a sharp rise in weekly cases—from 22,950 between April 28 and May 4 to 24,499 the following week. An officer from Buldhana, the district with second highest positivity, said a lot of health staffers may have been deployed in vaccination centres so testing numbers may have marginally dropped. “We are still conducting 5,000 tests daily,” he said.
In Satara (positivity rate of 33%), district health officer Dr Athalye said they were doing an average 6,000-7,000 tests. “We are doing more than the target set by government. Our projection is positivity will start declining in the next two weeks,” said Dr Athalye, adding the district was approaching its peak and was adding nearly 2,000 cases every day.
Yavatmal collector Dr Amol Yedge said positivity in the district is lower than the state average due to high number of tests. The district has done 5 lakh tests till date, which is rare for any district of similar population, he added. An official from Mumbai said the city’s daily positivity was now down to 7-8%.