Alarm as Covid infections spike in rural areas

Nairobi residents walk along Tom Mboya Street

Nairobi residents walk along Tom Mboya Street on August 10, 2021 while wearing masks.The number of Covid-19 infections in Kenya on August 10, 21021 increased to 213,756 after 1,183 people tested positive for the virus.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Counties around Mt Kenya previously seen as low-risk are experiencing a fresh spike in Covid-19 cases as residents drop their guard, with officials reporting more infections and deaths.

A culture of social gatherings and a high prevalence of non-communicable diseases could explain the high numbers specifically in Nyeri, Meru, Nakuru and Kirinyaga counties, medical experts say.

The counties that also have a high disease burden of diabetes, hypertension and asthma are also grappling with low testing rates and poor enforcement of Covid-19 regulations.

Hospitals in Nakuru County, including the Nakuru Level Five Hospital, are almost full, as a fresh surge of Covid-19 cases sweeps across the region. In the past two weeks, at least 50 deaths have been reported in Nakuru, pushing the total number of deaths in the region since the outbreak of the disease to 382. According to a report by the Nakuru Health Department, 101 confirmed cases are currently on supplemental oxygen and seven patients admitted in the ICU.

Nyeri County is also badly hit, with fatalities and the positivity rate surging over the last one month. Some 48 people died in April and 38 in July, an August 8 county report shows. In June only two people died.

Data from the Nyeri Health Department shows that the county’s positivity rate is 33 per cent, the second-highest number reached this year. The county has recorded 3,002 cases since last year.  The Nation learnt that 107 confirmed patients were in various isolation facilities across the county. Out of these, 48 patients were on oxygen.

Elderly people aged 60 and above account for the highest rate of infection, at 22 per cent.

These numbers have put authorities on their toes, particularly because now learning institutions and critical installations are emerging as Covid-19 hotspots.

Six teachers at Nyeri High School tested positive, prompting the deployment of an emergency containment team.

While surveillance is still high, the health department maintains students tested negative.

Nyeri Director of Health Services Nelson Muriu maintained that the health department had dispatched an emergency team to the school on Monday and Tuesday.

He noted that schools were at a high risk of becoming Covid-19 hotspots due to their large populations, adding that the reporting of Form One students had also made them more vulnerable.

“In boarding schools, it is like an isolation facility because there is little contact between the students and the outside world. The only link is for the teachers and we are concerned by the low uptake of the vaccine by teachers,” he said.

But markets and urban centres remain focal points.

In Nyeri, two key markets -- Mudavadi and Open Air -- are under watch, the August 8 report shows.

In Nakuru, rural areas of Njoro, Gilgil, Rongai, Subukia, Naivasha and Olenguruone in Kuresoi South sub-county, and Solai are recording infections. Also affected are Nakuru’s slums.

Last week five people from the same village died in Njoro due to Covid-19 complications.

“There has been a worrying spike in the number of Covid-19 admissions and deaths in Nakuru in the last two weeks. I urge residents not to relax in observing Covid-19 protocols because the Delta variant is dominant in Nakuru and spreads faster,” Governor Lee Kinyanjui told the Nation.

Vaccination drive

Nakuru County Health Executive Gichuki Kariuki on Monday revealed that the county has rolled out vaccination in at least 40 health institutions across the county, mainly targeting those aged 58 years and above.

“The virus has been very unforgiving to the older persons, and especially persons with pre-existing conditions. With the available doses, we will have rolled out countywide vaccination and we have prioritised the elderly to ensure they get the jab,” said Dr Kariuki.

In Nyeri, 40,911 people had received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 29,591 had received their second dose.

About 26,000 people have received the Covid-19 vaccine in Meru County.

Meanwhile, the Meru County government has intensified Covid-19 precautions following rising cases of the Delta variant.

All county employees in non-essential services will work from home starting August 10 until further notice to contain the spread of the disease.

In a memo issued by County Secretary Rufus Miriti, daily infections and deaths were on the rise, hence the need to decongest the offices.

Only staff working in the health, emergency, finance, environment and enforcement departments will be required to report to work.

This comes even as public health officials ordered a 14-day closure of lower classes at Maritati Primary School in Buuri after seven teachers tested positive for Covid-19.

Meru County Public Health Chief Officer John Inanga said learners in nursery to Grade Four levels have been sent home as their teachers were affected.

County disease surveillance coordinator Peter Wang’ombe said the seven teachers requested a test after their colleague fell ill.

“They are all asymptomatic and are under isolation at their homes. Two students are also under isolation at Igoji Teachers Training College. We urge residents to continue adhering to Covid-19 containment measures,” Dr Wang’ombe said.

Meru Health Executive Misheck Mutuma said the county government sent home its staff after positive cases shot up to 86 in two weeks.

“We are careful to limit the spread of the disease in the county. Previously, we have been recording about five cases every week but the number has increased a lot. About 22 patients are hospitalised in the county,” he said.

Five people have died of Covid-19 complications in Meru in the last two weeks.

Police post shut

In Kirinyaga, the Gathoge Police Post has been closed after all the six police officers based there tested positive for Covid-19.

Officials from the county’s public health department said it was necessary to close the facility to avoid the spread of the disease

The post will remain closed for 10 days, said County police Commander Leah Kithei.

Five officers were in self-quarantine while the sixth, who is in serious condition, has been isolated at Kianyaga Sub-County Hospital.

The police boss said the post was fumigated, adding that the affected officers would be allowed to resume duty when they recover. Following the closure, residents were advised to seek services at the Kutus Police Station.

 Reporting by Nicholas Komu, Irene Mugo, George Munene, Eric Matara and David Muchui


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