The testing system will be supplemented by rapid tests
Dr Bojana Beović, Head of the Expert Group at the Ministry of Health, was the first to speak at the morning press conference presenting the current COVID-19 situation. She emphasised that the number of severely ill persons requiring hospital treatment is the key data in the epidemic situation.
Today, a total of 600 patients are in hospitals, of whom almost 100 require intensive care. In the following days, this number will increase despite the fact that governmental measures will yield results, and therefore some 1,000 COVID-19 patients will soon require treatment in Slovenia.
According to Dr Beović, a new approach to testing is urgently required as the current one gives rise to two problems. Firstly, it takes a long time for someone who is ill and experiences problems to obtain an appointment and then have their swab taken. The waiting period for swabbing is several days in most Slovenian regions. Furthermore, a large number of swabs also means that the tests are not diagnosed quickly enough, but it is useful for people to receive their results as soon as possible.
The expert group thus drafted new recommendations that were forwarded to primary health care and which pursue two main principles:
The testing must primarily be done on people infected with COVID-19 for whom the course of the disease is expected to be more serious. These are people above the age of 60, those with chronic illnesses and those with a weak immune system. These people have priority with regard to testing.
Another important aspect is the epidemiological reason. People who are either in contact with more vulnerable persons or with a large number of people will be tested. In the current situation, many people are staying at home, working from home, schools are closed, several kindergartens are closed, so the epidemiologists do not require information regarding infected people with mild symptoms who will in any case remain home in self-isolation. However, information is needed about those who continue to go to work and have many social contacts. For these people, it is imperative to know as soon as possible whether they test positive and ensure that their high-risk contacts self-quarantine.
In this way, Dr Beović assesses, those who really need to be tested will be tested. Under this scenario, the number of tests will be somewhat lower, thereby enabling everyone to obtain their results faster.
Dr Miroslav Petrovec, Head of the Laboratory for Diagnostics of Viral Infections at the Faculty of Medicine, announced the introduction of rapid antigen tests for the segment of people who have not been tested, i.e. for all healthy people working in critical occupations and who are in contact with many people.
He provided information about the demographics of patients referred to microbiological testing and determined that only 20 to 25 per cent of tests were sent from hospitals and retirement homes, and all other testing was being implemented at entry points of community health centres. When examined in further detail, it was determined that the majority of people, some 60 per cent, were tested at these entry points and it is quite possible that the use of the best-quality tests available would not be necessary as the infection could be confirmed by means of antigen tests with great certainty. These patients usually have a large quantity of virus present in their secretions and such tests could confirm the presence of the virus in the majority of infection cases.
The antigen tests show the physical presence of the virus as detected by the testing. There are two types of such tests: rapid and mass-testing. The expert group drafted the parameters according to which various antigen tests will be assessed. It also composed a list of tests available, which can start being used safely in environments assessed by the group as suitable.
It is important that the number of antigen tests is sufficient, as this will enable the increase in the amount of testing accomplished, contributing to the organisation of patients and enabling them to have the diagnostics they require. The antigen tests are also cost-efficient, amounting to one third of the price of a molecular test.