DOH may again revise COVID-19 testing protocols

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — The Department of Health said Tuesday it is eyeing to change anew its rules on who should be tested for coronavirus disease amid criticisms that limited testing may leave COVID-19 cases undetected in the country.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told CNN Philippines that DOH may ease their guidelines because the country now has more testing facilities and test kits, including the ones from China, which could test 100,000 patient samples.

Duque added the kits have already passed the standards of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa.

“We might have to include people even with mild symptoms to get a more an accurate reflection of the rate of infection that is happening in certain communities where COVID-19 in spreading,” Duque said.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 are cough, shortness of breath and fever.

Under the revised guidelines issued by DOH last week, only those with severe symptoms of the viral disease, such as difficulty in breathing and prolonged cough and fever will be tested.

Elderly people, pregnant women and immunocompromised persons or those with weakened immune system will also be tested even if they show only mild symptoms. That's because they are groups that are at higher risk of infection or have a higher percentage of fatalities.

Prior to these protocols, only people who have been exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or have recently visited countries with cases of local transmission were tested.

The RITM earlier served as the only confirmatory testing laboratory for COVID-19 in the Philippines, conducting tests on 300 nasal and throat swabs a day. Now, its capacity has gone up to 600 tests with the arrival of new testing supplies last weekend.

But the national reference laboratory for emerging infectious diseases is now joined by 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.

Also, Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City “is being asked to comply expeditiously with the accreditation standards,” Duque said.

Other private laboratories in Metro Manila will also be assessed if they could be COVID-19 testing areas, he added.

The number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus disease in the Philippines has gone up to 462 on Monday, with 33 deaths and 18 recoveries.