Editorial: Quicker confirmation

LAST we know, there were four sub-national laboratories (SNL) capable of doing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the same test that the Regional Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) performs to confirm coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases.

These were Baguio General Hospital and Medical CentSan Lazaro Hospital (Metro Manila), Southern Philippines Medical Center (Davao City) and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (Cebu City).

In a PTV-4 interview yesterday, March 30, 2020 Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there are now six SNLs, although she did not name the new ones. The DOH, she said, is also training more personnel in other laboratories applying to be SNLs.

The brighter development, however, is that the DOH recently certified the SNL at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) to “conduct and release results” with no need of confirmation from the RITM. A positive result of a Covid-19 patient no longer need to undergo parallel test at the RITM in Alabang, Muntinlupa, Metro Manila.

This comes at a time when PCR test kits have been arriving in big waves recently—World Health Organization (WHO) kits, donations from abroad, private firms, and the recently approved test kits developed by the University of the Philippines Genome Center (UP-GC).

Around 120,000 UP-developed test kits can be used starting April 4. Department of Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said 26,000 of these kits would be given to the Philippine General Hospital, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, VSMMC, Southern Philippines Medical Center and Baguio Medical Center. The rest of the 96,000 kits are for sale at P1,300.

We don’t have the exact accumulated figure on the number of test kits, but the message is clear. The country, or Cebu for that matter, is now capable of conducting more tests at quicker rates of confirmation, although this is far from the “massive” tests that we imagined to be best since the DOH is still bent on prioritizing symptomatic individuals. This is consolation for the moment, if only to get a clearer picture of how the virus permeates the communities. This comes as the needed twin to the quarantine measures local government units are instituting. It’s not as though they’d be herding constituents blindly, putting carriers and healthy individuals in one pool. Well, not anymore, not 20-20 vision, but not in the dark.

This is a welcome development, and it opens the possibility of more identified Covid-19 cases in Cebu. Expect the figures to shift fast in the coming days, weeks. Still, this is better than being left scared like hell in the dark.