First barrier: Nanduri at a face mask production facility in Thoothukudi
On March 31, the coastal district of Thoothukudi identified its first COVID-19 positive case, a Tablighi Jamaat member who had attended the markaz in Delhi. District collector Sandeep Nanduri immediately set in motion a process to identify and test all other people who had recently returned to the district. Six others were traced, again part of the markaz team, and all of them tested positive.
Soon, 12 contact tracing teams (one per block) were formed and deployed to trace the primary and secondary contacts of all seven infected people. About 50 samples from primary contacts and 90 from secondary ones were taken. While those found positive were shifted to isolation wards, the negative contacts were home-quarantined.
Two containment zones, Kayalpattinam and Boldenpuram, were identified as ‘hotspots’. Despite being high-density urban locations, they were sealed. The lockdown was strictly implemented and no movement allowed, except for emergency purposes. “Local religious leaders were taken into confidence and they were involved in identification of contacts and testing,” says Nanduri.
Meanwhile, another huge challenge appeared. One of the positive patients turned out to be a doctor at the Kayalpattinam Government Hospital. He had gone to work for three days before he was traced and tested. The entire hospital was sealed, disinfection started as per protocol and 134 contacts, including staff and patients, were identified and tested within two days. The hospital opened after a week, but only after certification from the medical department.
A control room was set up for effective monitoring and the health infrastructure ramped up with 500 isolation beds while 750 beds were arranged at the six quarantine facilities. Besides the 300 government doctors, 138 private hospitals and 430 clinics were brought on board.
Nanduri also had the district’s official mobile app, ‘Muthu Mavattam’, tweaked to include additional modules for monitoring home-quarantined people, issuing e-passes (for travel) and registering volunteers. This greatly helped reduce the number of visitors to the collector’s office.