Test, isolate, conduct interventions for possible recovery of confirmed cases these are the steps now being followed to prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 from spreading further. Many countries, the Philippines included, suffered from inadequacy starting at the testing stage. Now, with thousands of testing kits arriving and a local company set to mass-produce its own COVID-19 kits, several local government units are set to roll out mass testing among their constituents.
Most of the testing kits available are not what the Department of Health considers to be the “gold standard” in COVID-19 detection – meaning the kits test mainly for antibodies and the results still need validation by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine for actual presence of the coronavirus. The RITM in Muntinlupa is the country’s main COVID testing center, where Polymerase Chain Reaction tests are carried out. The DOH has stressed that the PCR test can detect the coronavirus even among the asymptomatic – something that the rapid test kit cannot do.
Still, amid the limited availability of PCR tests, the rapid antibody testing kit, as the name implies, will enhance the detection and isolation of possible COVID cases. Even while waiting for the results of the more reliable PCR tests, suspected cases can be quickly isolated and monitored for infection.
Efficient and widespread mass testing allows for targeted quarantine of suspected individuals or communities. The objective is to spare the majority of the population from the economically ruinous effects of community quarantines. A handful of places such as South Korea and Taiwan have managed to avoid community quarantines and lockdowns – and therefore economic collapse – because of their widespread and efficient testing capabilities.
Along with the increased testing capability, local government units and organizations are setting up special quarantine facilities away from now overburdened hospitals. The DOH is also opening more laboratories, easing the burden on the RITM and allowing for faster results for cases outside Metro Manila. Apart from the Lung Center of the Philippines, which has been approved as a testing center, nearly 50 other government and private hospitals and laboratories across the country are seeking accreditation as testing centers. The DOH should lose no time in assessing the capabilities of the applicants and approving the facilities that meet the criteria. Mass testing is critical if the government wants to ease quarantine measures and restart the economy.