DOH eyes return of RITM full testing operations by Saturday

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — The country’s prime coronavirus testing center is set to return to its full operations on Saturday after dozens of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, Health Spokesperson Ma. Rosario Vergeire said on Monday.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City was forced to scale down its laboratory operations on April 18 after 43 of its employees contracted the coronavirus disease.

“Since Saturday, they’ve started scaling down processes and it’s going to last until Friday because we’re trying to decontaminate and we have yet to receive the report because as of yesterday they were still trying to do the contact tracing and the investigation. This coming Saturday they would be fully functional again,” Vergeire told CNN Philippines.

The health spokesperson said the RITM is still conducting an investigation into the high number of confirmed cases among its staff, but the initial report points that the employees caught the virus in their communities when they went out after their shifts. She added it remains unclear if the 40 employees are from the RITM hospital or the testing laboratory.

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

Vergeire assured the public of the testing integrity of the RITM, the facility that can process the most number of COVID-19 samples at 2,000 tests daily.

“RITM is our national reference laboratory and therefore they practice disinfection control procedures and it is just unfortunate that this kind of infection has happened within RITM,” she said.

RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos said the first known case in their laboratory was an encoder. She said due to the decrease in staff and volume of specimen received by the facility, the turnaround time for testing has been prolonged to more than five days. there are also approximately 5,000 specimen pending confirmation in their laboratories. 

RITM is prioritizing processing the test results of all its employees, but continues to accept samples but only from Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Pasay City.

The other testing samples that cannot be accommodated by RITM have been sent to the other subnational laboratories in the country.

“As long as proper infection control procedures are being implemented, it should not be risky. That's why we are reiterating to those applying for laboratories for COVID-19 testing centers that there should be protocols that we are implementing so this kind of risk should be minimized,” Vergeire said.