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Superspreaders, a yet uncontrolled, but key factor in the spread of the epidemic

Dr Matjaž Vogrin, Medical Director of Maribor University Medical Centre, Dr Irena Grmek Košnik, epidemiologist from Kranj Regional Unit of the National Institute of Public Health, and Government spokesperson Jelko Kacin attended the press conference on the current COVID-19 situation.

Some 2,244 tests were performed on Sunday, of which 557 were positive, which is 24.82 per cent. A total of 868 patients are in hospitals, of whom 135 require intensive care, and 25 patients died.

Dr Matjaž Vogrin provided information about the average age of patients hospitalised in Maribor University Medical Centre, which is between 65 and 70 years. The youngest person being treated is 37 years old with no underlying conditions. The mortality rate in the intensive care units of Slovenian hospitals amounts to 30 per cent of hospitalised patients and denotes a very low proportion compared to health systems in other European countries. The absence of 300 workers is evident; half of these are absent due to quarantine or self-isolation and the other half are on sick leave. Volunteers and doctors/concessionaires participate in teams at Maribor University Medical Centre to help the regular staff. Doctors communicate the patients’ health status via phone, and the next of kin may say goodbye to their dying relatives during a brief personal contact.

Kacin presented the 14-day incidence rate for the Gorenjska region. On 1 October, there were 89 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the region, while the incidence was 1,978 on the last day of October. With regard to the incidence increase, the curve has been slowly settling down in the last days of the month.

Dr Grmek Košnik spoke about the situation and reasons for the large number of positive cases in Gorenjska. According to her estimates, 85 per cent of people are recovering from a mild form of the disease. It is possible that not everyone observed the instructions and individuals perhaps continued to have social contact. As a significant reason for the high numbers, she also considered the lack of arrangement of wage compensation for persons with high-risk contacts between 12 and 31 October, resulting in the fact that thrifty people of Gorenjska still went to work. However, private gatherings in the form of parties, birthday celebrations, weddings, group sports, gatherings outside apartment buildings and on playgrounds still continued.

Literature cites superspreaders as a strong element in the spread of the epidemic. In addition to the aforementioned, there are three additional key circumstances that contribute to the spread of the virus, i.e. long-term contact, poor ventilation and crowds. Superspreading can thus occur in enclosed spaces where COVID-19 travels in the air and accumulates due to poor ventilation.

As the most effective measures to combat the epidemic, Dr Grmek Košnik highlighted the use of the #OstaniZdrav application, and systematic and extensive testing, particularly the combination of PCR and antigen tests.

The epidemiologists expect the third wave in the beginning of January at the time of seasonal influenza when it will be difficult to make a distinction between the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19.