DOH: Four hospitals testing for COVID-19 this week, faster diagnosis seen

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 17) — Soon, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine will not be the only facility conducting clinical tests for coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

Health Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines on Tuesday that four more hospitals will start testing for COVID-19 this week.

They are the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Benguet, and San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

"Nabigyan na natin [sila] ng reagents (We have given them reagents)," Vergeire said. Reagents are the chemicals used to perform the tests, which the Department of Health earlier said were lacking in subnational laboratories, that's why they could not start with the testing.

READ: Four hospitals to begin trial of local test kits for coronavirus

"So this coming week, ito na po these coming days, mag-uumpisa na pong magtest ang mga hospital natin (our hospitals will start testing) and hopefully this will make things faster," Vergeire said.

The RITM on Monday disclosed there may be a delay in the release of results – from the current two days to three to five days, due to the high volume of samples sent to them and the limited number of personnel running the test.

Vergeire explained that the transportation of samples from the hospital to the RITM in Muntinlupa City also takes time.

More test kits are coming

When asked how many people have availed of testing at RITM, Vergeire said, "this can be thousands already since the start that we have responded to this situation."

The country confirmed its first coronavirus case in January – a 38-year-old female Chinese national who travelled to the Philippines from Wuhan – the Chinese city where the outbreak began in December 2019.

She is among three people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the country. All in all, 187 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, with 12 deaths.

Vergeire said the RITM has used 80 percent of its original inventory of testing kits, but donations have been delivered and more are coming in.

"So there are some donations which are here already and there are some donations which are still about to arrive here in the country," Vergeire said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque on Monday night said the country is expecting up to 20,000 more test kits – including donations from South Korea, China, and the ones locally developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines.

Chinese billionaire and Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma also gave 50,000 test kits to Senator Manny Pacquiao's foundation, which will now be donated to the DOH.

Prioritizing the vulnerable

For now, the DOH is prioritizing the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions and those showing severe symptoms.

"Ang tinetest po natin ngayon are those who are highly vulnerable kahit ho mild at asymptomatic ang kanilang kaso (We test the highly vulnerable even if they have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic), if they are elderly, if they have underlying conditions, we test them," Vergeire said.

According to the World Health Organization, eight in 10 or around 80 percent of infected patients worldwide experience "mild illness" and eventually recover from COVID-19. Some 14 percent experience severe illness while 5 percent are critically ill, the WHO said.

To prevent infection, authorities are urging people to practice regular hand washing, cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with those who show respiratory symptoms.