40,000 Covid-19 test kits arrive for Central Visayas

WHILE the situation appeared dim earlier this week on the Covid-19 testing dilemma, a ray of sunshine appeared on Friday, March 20, 2020 when 40,000 testing kits arrived through the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav).

A day earlier on Thursday, only 100 testing kits arrived at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for VSMMC’s newly activated subnational laboratory to test suspected cases of the Covid-19.

This prompted Department of Health (DOH) 7 Director Jaime Bernadas to then say that even with the activation of the laboratory, not everyone who exhibits symptoms of the virus can be tested due to the limited number of testing kits available.

Priority basis

While the National Government is fully subsidizing the kits, Bernadas said for now, they are used on “priority basis” such as cases needing admission in a medical facility and those with severe acute respiratory infection.

“It is not available for sale, and it is not available for payment and not available for all. It is for the doctors to identify who will be tested,” Bernadas said.

The VSMMC subnational laboratory, which is one of five facilities in the country conducting Covid-19 tests, started operating on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

“As much as possible, we want to test all of those with symptoms, all the patients under investigation for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), but we do not have the luxury of doing it,” Bernadas said.

Should there be more testing kits available, Bernadas said they will test all those with symptoms and people who were in contact with those having the symptoms of the deadly disease.

DOH sources said the testing kits which arrived from Opav Friday night, had yet to be tested if these would be compatible with the testing machine at the VSMMC laboratory.

VSMMC is currently the only Covid-19 proficient molecular testing government facility in Central Visayas.

Half of the 40,000 kits from Opav will be assigned to suspected cases in Cebu City; the other 20,000 will be for the rest of Central Visayas.

Another set of 10,000 testing kits, purchased by the Cebu City Government, is scheduled to arrive on Saturday, March 21.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, a close friend of Opav Secretary Michael Dino, said the kits intended for Cebu City may be shared with other local government units with no testing kits available.

Aside from VSMMC and RITM in Muntinlupa, the other DOH facilities conducting Covid-19 tests are San Lazaro Hospital (Manila), Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (Baguio City), and Southern Philippines Medical Center (Davao City).

Reynette Christine Ligaray, VSMMC department of pathology chairman, said results of the Covid-19 tests can be made available within 24 hours.

All results will be forwarded to the DOH Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit.

Ligaray said VSMMC is now helping other hospitals develop their own laboratories so that they can assist in case an influx of specimens needs to be tested.

DOH surveillance

DOH 7 regional epidemiologist Junjie Zuasula said disease surveillance teams have been deployed in the entire Central Visayas to detect areas with individuals having influenza-like illness (ILI), the new term coined for patients under investigation (PUI).

Zuasula said once an ILI is detected, the local health office is immediately called on to intervene for the the clustering of all ILI individuals in the area.

If proven positive for the virus, sequential small-scale community quarantine will have to be imposed to contain the source of the infection, explained Zuasula.

He said Central Visayas is the first to implement this strategy to prevent the virus from spreading.

In Cebu City, Health Officer Daisy Villa said the City Health Office will conduct consultations in barangays where there are residents suffering from cough and fever.

Villa said those having symptoms of the Covid-19 will be referred to the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT).

Bernadas said government and private hospitals have to prepare isolation rooms to receive patients with flu-like symptoms coming in for consultation and for possible admission.

Hospitals that refuse to admit suspected Covid-19 patients may be subject to a complaint.

“If there are patients who complain that they were not admitted, please give us your report. You have to write it also so that we can investigate,” said Sophia Mancao, chief of the DOH 7 Regulation and Licensing Enforcement Division in a mix of Cebuano and English.

There are a total of 57 hospitals in Central Visayas.

All negative

In Lapu-Lapu City, 13 PUIs have tested negative for the virus.

Grace Mary Carunggay, chief of the City Epidemiology Surveillance Unit, said five of those tested were Filipinos while eight were foreigners.

Eight of the PUIs were discharged from the ARC Hospital, the City’s partner-hospital.

The entire 4th floor of the hospital building has been reserved for possible Covid-19 patients needing isolation.

ARC Hospital medical director Alex Alegrado assured all DOH and World Health Organization protocols are being implemented by them in caring for suspected cases.

Earlier, 100 testing kits purchased by the Lapu-Lapu City Government arrived from Singapore.

“We are happy that Covid-19 has not entered our city,” said Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan.

Police PUMs

Meanwhile, 103 policemen in Central Visayas were placed under home quarantine and are now considered persons under monitoring (PUMs) after they exhibited cough and fever.

Some of the police officers had arrived from a seminar in Metro Manila, which has been on lockdown for mounting cases of Covid-19.

Before they were advised to rest, the cops underwent a medical check-up at the PNP Hospital in Camp Sotero Cabahug, Cebu City, where they were given vitamins and medicines.

Other developments:

The Cebu City Council approved during a special session, on Friday, a P1 billion budget to help mitigate effects of the Covid-19.

The funds will be used for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers and barangay responders.

It will also cover expenses to help “no work, no pay,” workers during the crisis.

Majority floor leader Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia said among those to be prioritized in the aid distribution are habal-habal drivers, jeepney drivers and vendors. (WBS, JJL, PAC, FVQ, AYB, PR / RHB)