RITM prioritizes staff testing after at least 40 employees contract COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The country's main novel coronavirus testing center in Muntinlupa City has scaled down its test processing operations after at least 40 of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) on Monday denied the testing facility will temporarily close down, but it is prioritizing processing the test results of its employees.

"Sa ngayon po kasi because we are testing all the staff here, iyun po ang aming priority. 'Yung samples ng aming employees at lahat ng taong nagwo-work dito. So until matapos namin yun tsaka kami magpo-process ng external samples," RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos told CNN Philippines' Balitaan.

[Translation: Right now we are testing all our staff. Processing their test sample is our priority. When we finish that, that's the only time we will start processing external samples.]

RITM is the facility that can process the most number of COVID-19 samples at 2,000 tests daily. But Carlos said there is a need to scale down operations.

Of the at least 40 RITM employees who tested positive for COVID-19, the doctor said they are not sure if the workers contracted the virus at work or in their communities.

"Around 40 something po ang nag-positive pero hindi naman po sila severely ill. 'Yung iba po mildly sick lang so naka-quarantine lang po sila dito sa aming dormitory facilities. 'Yung iba po na medyo serious ang symptoms, hindi naman very serious, nasa hospital po sila inadmit," she added.

[Translation: Around 40 have tested positive for COVID-19, but they are not severely ill. Those with mild symptoms are quarantined at our dormitory. Those with more serious symptoms are admitted in hospitals.]

She added, "Health of the employees is the primary concern of the agency. If anyone is sick, you need to address (that) and if there are several people who are sick, we need to take the action quickly to prevent the spread of the disease."

The RITM director said there are still employees who are healthy and continue to report to work, but she appealed for additional manpower of around 60 medical workers.

RITM continues to accept samples but only from Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Pasay City.

The Health Department on Sunday said the RITM slowdown may impact the tallying of COVID-19 cases in the coming days.

Philippines has 15 other operational testing laboratories nationwide.

More than 700 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in the country have contracted the coronavirus disease, the Department of Health said on April 17. This is a three-fold increase from the number it reported last week. A total of 22 health workers have died from the disease.