The COVID section is located below the main nine-storey tall STNM Hospital building Credit: Pema Wang Chen Lama

Gangtok: Following a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases in Sikkim, the state health department has opted to bring in only symptomatic cases to STNM Hospital. Asymptomatic cases, as in Rongli and Rhenock, will be kept in isolation at Chujachen Senior Secondary School and Rhenock Senior Secondary School’s Girls Hostel, with similar procedures to follow for other positive cases that are asymptomatic.

Addressing a media gathering at Tashiling Secretariat on Saturday, health director general Dr Pempa Tshering Bhutia said, “We made a visit of Rongli and Rhenock yesterday, what is glaring in these places and their PHCs was that people from different villages had come to be tested for COVID 19. We conducted Rapid Antigen Testing, but we would also like to inform the people that we will come for testing of only primary contacts of such patients, not the entire village as by the time we finish RAT at the end of the line in days, the person may be well exposed to the virus. We reached an understanding with the Panchayats to identify these two centres for isolation, also to avoid further transmission in other parts of the state”.

Dr Bhutia also said that the decision has been taken keeping in mind that per week, 50 health workers are exposed to COVID positive patient. “If we keep running with such a high number of health workers for asymptomatic patients, we may run short of manpower when there are symptomatic cases. Asymptomatic cases are ideally kept under observation needing no treatment; they are best suited in isolation”.

Taking account of Rongli’s massive exposure and Rhenock’s contained situation, the health secretary said, “In Rhenock we have kept a doctor while for Rongli, a general doctor is already there at the PHCs along with twice a week visit by the Medical Officer and Doctors from Singtam in East Sikkim”.

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The health director general also clarified on STNM falling short of beds. “Currently, there are three floors — 7th, 8th, and 9th — that have been devoted for COVID but if there is a surge in number of cases, we will isolate the lower floors also for COVID 19, clearing the current gynaecology and obstetrics wards. There are plenty of other wards as we go into the lower level of the STNM Hospital’s main building. Along with the upcoming isolation hospital for COVID coming up in the STNM Hospital premises, we are eyeing for an inauguration by July 31. If that gets completed, there will be enough space for more patients,” he said.

However, he admitted if there is a surge in COVID cases as the days go by, general OPD and other in patients admitted for other ailments could face difficulties of being shifted to other district hospitals.

With East Sikkim district facing lockdown, while the other three districts getting relaxation, Dr Pempa informed that if there are patients coming from other districts, they must present their medical certificates and they will be allowed to come to the district. Two of the premier hospitals of the state, STNM and Central Referral Hospital are in the state capital.

Furthermore, he asserted on protecting the doctors at STNM Hospital as a high priority claiming they are the ones who will be treating the symptomatic patients. “With seven days of exposure and 14 days of quarantine, many of our senior doctors will be away from the hospital for over 21 days. There are still general OPDs functioning and in-patients along with COVID-19 being the looming threat, if all such doctors go into quarantine, it may create a lot of trouble in the health scenario of the State”

The health director general also informed that the Chief Minister has tested negative for COVID-19 along with his family, when the test was conducted days ago.

“It appears that CM along with RMD minister Sonam Lama had come in contact with an SKM functionary BM Pradhan on July 2, who was from Rongli where the rapid surge in cases has happened. He had even paid a visit to Samman Bhawan and accordingly here at Tashiling Secretariat, we did conduct test for employees at Sammna Bhawan but here at Tashiling, 15 days have passed and we have noticed no symptoms upon our employees. We will soon be conducting similar such tests for all other ministers and MLAs, as we want to protect the VIPs”.

He further informed that office of the Chief Secretary along with him and his employees were also tested today.

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