What is happening along the Thiruvananthapuram coast is a sign that nothing much can be done to contain the virus in regions where people live in jammed, close-knit colonies. While the old clusters continue to fester, new ones are being spotted everywhere.
Unexpected and grave was the infection in the inmates of an old age home run by Missionaries of Charity in Kochuthura, in Karumkulam panchayat. And within the city, in an underprivileged colony of small jam-packed houses near Pattom that was thought to be free of the virus, 17 were found positive.
Day of new clusters
There were nearly 200 cases on Friday (though a combined two-day count of 321 was officially put) and, as usual, most of the cases were from the coast. But the unusual part is, the cases stood high even though tests were not done in the most affected virus clusters like Pulluvila, Puthukurichy, Anchuthengu and Kottapuram. In the largest virus cluster, Poonthura, just seven tests were done on the day.
Had samples been taken in these hotspots on Friday, the fresh cases would have been double.
Tests were conducted mostly in the new clusters, like Kottukal, Thumba and Kochuthura.
Mother Teresa's worry
If the Thumba cluster was discovered four days ago, a new institutional cluster was spotted in Kochuthura on July 31. 35 inmates of Santhi Bhavan, a home for the aged and the invalid run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kochuthura, were found infected. Of this six were nuns of the convent, nine were staff and the remaining 20 were inmates.
A ward was arranged exclusively for all the Santhi Bhavan cases in the Thiruvananthapuram General Hospital. "All of them will have to be put together or else the inmates, most of them suffering from various disabilities, will find it difficult. Only these nuns know how to take care of their special needs," said G Anilkumar, the president of Karumkulam panchayat.
The home came under the spotlight when a 78-year-old inmate died on July 30. He was positive when his sample was tested. The suspicion is that the virus could have sneaked into the home with the nuns who returned after their daily visit to the church. The staff, too, regularly make outside visits.
The spotlight on the old-age home in Kochuthura meant that no tests were done in any other wards of the Karumkulam panchayat though it has nearly 500 cases in all.
Nearby Kottukal panchayat, which had seen a spike in cases in the coastal wards of Adimalathura and Chowara, had only five cases when 24 tests were conducted. "In fact, 50 people had registered for the tests and only 24 turned up," said Saji T, the president of Kottukal panchayat.
Far north in Kadinamkulam's Thumba village, 14 new cases were confirmed when 47 tests were done, all of them primary contacts of KINFRA workers who had tested positive four days ago. In just four days, the number of COVID-19 cases in Thumba has burgeoned to 126.
The other major coastal hotspot in Kadinamkulam, Marianad, yet again threw up a large number of cases on Friday. 35 were tested and 18 were found positive. Worryingly, three cases were found in Puthukurichy North, a ward without a single case till now.
"Puthukurichy North ward had many cases but 75 tests done in the South ward earlier had not thrown up even a single case. But today, we found three. This clearly means that there are more cases in the area," said Felix P, the president of Kadinamkulam panchayat.
In nearby Anchuthengu village, which has over 150 COVID-19 cases, no tests were done on Friday. "We were told even early in the morning (on Friday) that there would be tests. The doctors came but not the nurses or the support staff. I don't know whether they could take a holiday even if it is Bakrid when COVID-19 is raging," said Yesudasan Stephen, the Anchuthengu ward member and also its vice president.
Inside the corporation limits, tests were not conducted in wards like Beemapally and Puthenpally.
The shock was the 17 new cases, five of them kids below the age of 10, in Thekkummoodu Colony in Kunnukuzhy, near Pattom.
A woman in the colony was diagnosed with COVD-19 three days ago, and today when 50 tests were done on the elderly and kids in the colony, 17 positive cases were found. Over 200 families live in the colony, and more tests in the coming days are expected to reveal more cases.
"The houses are so small that they don't have bathrooms. So people in the colony use common latrines. They do not have pipe water connection either and so they queue up before public taps. What more do you need for the virus to spread," said I P Binu, the Kunnukuzhy councillor.
Quite in keeping with the trend, more healthcare workers were found positive in Thiruvananthapuram district than anywhere else. There were 10 positive cases today, and one was a cardiac surgeon in Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST). Two patients were also found infected.