In search of the silent virus in Cuevas del Becerro, the Andalusian town where seven out of ten test positive for COVID
Maybe before last Friday many residents of Calf Caves (Malaga) will suspect that the evolution of the coronavirus was not good in their municipality. Precisely for this reason, they had been asking for a massive screening to help detect asymptomatic cases for weeks. But it is also certain that no one thought the situation was as bad as what the screening showed: 130 of 182 people who passed the antigen test on Friday (71.4%) have tested positive. It is 8.1% of the population of the municipality. 289 people had been summoned. To know the real incidence, the Junta de Andalucía has called all the residents of Cuevas del Becerro (1589 inhabitants) to pass a PCR test between Monday and Tuesday. It is the first Andalusian municipality in which all its inhabitants are called to pass a test.
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In the town there is bewilderment and bewilderment. Due to the very high contagion figures, but also because, although it is there, the virus has not seen its worst face: the vast majority of the positives detected this weekend are asymptomatic. At the door of Venta Manuel (closed like all bars), Remedios Montilla is surprised while she reels the data: she regrets that a man died on Monday, but highlights that there are barely five neighbors admitted, none in ICU: "It's not that we are in very bad shape, that the virus has entered and has taken half the town. What happened overnight?".
In Malaga province, the cumulative incidence at 14 days is 209 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In Cuevas del Becerro it is 10,446.8. "We do not know what happened", admits the mayor, Ana María García (Adelante), who recalls that the rate had been rising for weeks until registering about 4,200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which made it the highest incidence in Andalusia. 120 cases since October 19, with a maximum peak of 61 active cases.
The mayor points out that the town always had more up-to-date information than that published by the regional administration, the result of contact with the neighbors. So in view of the fact that the situation did not improve and they were losing control of the outbreaks, three weeks ago the city council and the neighbors launched themselves to demand that the Junta de Andalucía carry out a massive screening. They put up a banner ('Junta de Andalucía absent'), called the televisions and made a live cacerolada.
The Junta de Andalucía responded to the request and the result has been devastating. "It has been a jug of cold water because we knew the screening of other municipalities, where three or four cases came out. The closest thing was Arriate, with about 20 positives with twice the population," laments the mayor. Only the 130 positives detected on Friday will increase the incidence of Cuevas del Becerro by 8,181 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
An unexpected result
"It is a very strange thing: it turns out that in the town everyone has COVID ... And nobody has symptoms"Josefa Rosado comments in the queue, just before entering the Junta's truck where they will carry out the PCR test. She has not observed a particularly irresponsible behavior." We are stunned, what do you want me to tell you. Everything is closed, in the Health Center they are very overwhelmed and there is panic in the town. It's incomprehensible".
The result has caused such surprise that there are those who suspect that something has gone wrong. Several neighbors say that some positives have skipped the confinement to take a second test in Ronda, where they would have obtained a negative result. In response to eldiario.es/Andalucía, Carlos Bautista, Health delegate, assures that it is "impossible" that there has been a contamination of the samples, although he admits that it is the first time that a screening with an antigen test shows such a high percentage of positives.
The mayor also defends the validity of the method: "We cannot doubt the work of Public Health professionals. They are tests that have been used in all the towns that have done screening and it has not been questioned. Of course we do not like the result, but the numbers are the numbers. " As he explains, the selection of candidates for screening was carried out by the health district, looking for a representative sample by age and sex.
García refers to the explanations given by the health authorities: antigen tests have 93% sensitivity (ability to detect infected: positive) and 99% specificity (ability to detect uninfected: negative), according to a report from the Carlos III Institute. "A false negative is easier than a false positive. No matter how minimal the viral load, it comes out positive," he says. However, the Ministry has always recommended its use in symptomatic or strategic settings, not for population screening, since the sensitivity of the test is reduced after the appearance of symptoms.
After resorting to antigen screening on Friday, the usefulness of which it has been defending for months, the Junta de Andalucía has decided to test the entire population with PCR. The Health delegate explained that the objective is "to really know what is happening in Cuevas, which is related to infected but asymptomatic patients." "We are concerned, but we hope this clears up the doubts."
With (at least) 130 families confined, the town also faces a logistical challenge. One of the two bakeries and one of the largest stores has closed. Many cannot go out, so Ana Perujo has received a municipal mobile in which she attends to the requests of the neighbors. Transmits the order to the store and the store communicates with the Civil Protection members, who are in charge of leaving the orders at home.
While explaining the operation, he finishes placing a closed sign on the fence of one of the bars. There are two others where it reads: "It is forbidden to stand in the yard without a mask." He assures that they have been there since the summer, when the City Council drew up a protocol for the bars. Some older people blame the situation on the young, but no one can explain something different from what can happen in other towns. "On the bridge the terraces were full ... but as in all towns", laments Paola Escudero.
"The idiosyncrasy of these towns is friendship and contact between neighbors," says the mayor, who has now had to ask citizens to stay home. The virus is there, but in Cuevas they are holding their breath because it has barely shown its most sinister face so far.