The containment of the pandemic, the vaccination phase and “the lack of hands” have put in the background the massive screenings that the Department of Health carried out at the end of 2020 to detect asymptomatic patients and cut the transmission chains. Diagnostic PCR and antigen tests have decreased by 57% in the last seven weeks, a period marked by strict mobility restrictions, the rise of the British variant and by the permanence of the propagation speed (Rt) near 1 The balance between the cost and the benefit of the screenings explains in part this reduction, according to the experts.
The Department of Health is currently focusing its efforts on administering vaccines against covid to increase the immunity of the population. This effort means that diagnostic tests in selective screenings have decreased notably in recent weeks. “We would like to do more screening, sure, but we have the hands that we have, and the level of stress that we have on our professionals. We cannot do more ”, justified Tuesday the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon.
Of the 384,508 total tests carried out between January 17 and 23, it has risen to 166,258 in the last week, a figure that was not so low since October. In all that time the Government implemented some of the most restrictive limitations in the entire State and warned of the danger of the British variant, more transmissible.
Mass screening was carried out mainly in the last months of 2020 to find asymptomatic positives and cut transmission chains, mainly among young people. Now, in full containment of the pandemic, the Department of Health of the Generalitat does not consider a priority to recover the massive tests.
“We lowered the incidence slowly, and we also lowered the number of tests, logically,” explains Argimon. With the decrease in positivity in tests, health centers are receiving fewer patients with covid symptoms who require a test to confirm the diagnosis.
“Anything that is reducing the diagnostic effort is not good, it is evident”, analyzes Enric Álvarez, member of the research group of Computational Biology and Complex Systems (BIOCOMSC), a reference for its projections of the epidemic indicators. “Perhaps the ability to perform PCR to search for positives has not been used,” adds the Catalan researcher.
His research partner, Martí Català, agrees on the benefits of screening: “As far as possible, they should be done because it is an active search for positives. If you find them before they spread, that will save you ”, he explains. Català, however, admits the difficulty of carrying out massive tests in full vaccination: “The department is now focused on vaccination and large screenings cannot be done at the same time. The important thing is positivity, and now we are below 5%, which is what the World Health Organization sets. Asymptomatic patients always escape, but at this level, they escape less ”. With the current positivity, conducting mass screening is decided on a question of balances between costs and benefits, according to experts. “It is a relationship between the tests you take and the positives you find. Here you have a measure of what you lose or not, ”sums up Català.
The department defends that the scarcity of resources limits the active search for the virus, an idea that the minister Alba Vergés claimed when the massive screenings were carried out. “The reduction in tests is explained by the reduction of the epidemic. The screenings are still being done, but much more targeted ”, the counselor justified yesterday.
Catalonia was the autonomous community that carried out the most diagnostic tests in all of Spain last week, according to data from the Ministry of Health, and it is the third territory with the most diagnoses (2,122) per 100,000 inhabitants. Only Galicia (2,402) and Asturias (2.32) are ahead. “I do not like the classifications, but we are from the communities that carry out the most tests,” claimed the Secretary of Public Health yesterday. Catalonia is currently the eighth community with its lowest positivity of all the autonomies, which have also decreased diagnostic tests in recent weeks.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.