LIST: Who can be tested using rapid COVID-19 test kits?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The government on Monday released guidelines for use of COVID-19 test kits that produce results in under an hour. The issuance comes as the public continues to clamor for wider mass testing to detect cases to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, named specific sectors who are allowed to use rapid antibody-based test kits — a controversial diagnostic tool that produces quick but possibly inaccurate results.

Unlike the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction or RT-PCR tests preferred by the country’s health expert, rapid antibody test kits use blood samples. Such kits are unable to detect the COVID-19 virus. Instead, it measures a patient’s antibodies through the sample.

Only licensed medical doctors can request and administer antibody-based test kits, which can produce results in under an hour. Whether they are testing symptomatic or asymptomatic people, they are required to wear protective gear to make sure they will not contract the highly-contagious disease.

Doctors can only use rapid test kits validated by the Food and Drug Administration, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and the Department of Science and Technology.

Who can be tested using rapid antibody test kits

Nograles said the following persons under monitoring (PUMs) or persons and healthcare workers who have no flu-like symptoms and no history of travel can be tested using the rapid antibody test kits:

- Healthcare workers with no symptoms but have “unprotected exposure” can be tested using the rapid test kits if RT-PCR kits are unavailable. They can be tested using the rapid kits to get clearance to go back to work

- A symptomatic close contact of a known or suspected case can be tested if there is no stock of RT-PCR test. However, regardless of the test result, they need to remain isolated

- A close contact of a COVID-19 patient, but not showing any symptoms

- Filipinos returning from another country can be tested using the rapid test kits when they arrive at a quarantine facility. The rapid test kits can also be used before they are discharged after fulfilling their mandatory 14-day quarantine.

- People who are not showing symptoms but are residing in areas with suspected community-based COVID-19 transmission. Testing can be performed at the household, sitio, and barangay level with proper sampling methodology upon coordination with the epidemiology bureau and local health officials

DOH and local infectious disease experts have advised against the use of rapid testing, preferring the use of RT-PCR tests as it gives a definitive diagnosis. While it is the “gold standard test," it takes at least 24 hours to process — sometimes even longer due to bottlenecks.

With the RT-PCR tests, trained professionals test nose and throat swabs to find out whether a person has coronavirus. Once the repeat test yields a negative result, the patient can be allowed to go home.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the purchase of rapid test kits amid the shortage of RT-PCR test kits and its long turnaround time. Around 3,000 kits with 45-minute processing time are set to arrive in the country next week.

Nograles said the test results from the rapid antibody test kits will not be included in the official tally of confirmed and recovered cases recorded by the Department of Health.