PH needs more tests to show real extent of virus spread: specialist

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2020 11:14 PM

Residents of a depressed community in Barangay Paligsahan, Quezon City wait to receive relief goods being distributed by the barangay officers on March 19, 2020. Local officials in the barangay level are dipping into their calamity funds to provide relief assistance to communities that have been hurt by the lockdown in Metro Manila implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines is set to receive thousands in additional diagnostic kits, raising hopes for a wider testing of suspected new coronavirus cases, which will give authorities a clearer picture of the real extent of infections in the country.

A number of critically-ill patients classified as “under investigation” had died before test results arrived to determine if they were positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), said Dr. Rontgene Solante, citing reports sent to the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases where he is a former president.

“Mortalities are reported but have not been confirmed because... the turnaround time is long,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“But they have been treated already as possible COVID-19 (case) based on the clinical manifestations.”

As of Friday night, several doctors had also been infected, some in “severe guarded conditions,” he said, highlighting the vulnerabilities of health workers dealing with the fast-spreading virus.

“We know what we are doing but there is still an element of fear because you don’t know those who have the virus roaming around, not necessarily in the hospital,” he said.

TEST MILD CASES

With some 125,000 test kits set to arrive from China and South Korea, and new testing centers opened, health officials are expecting results to come much sooner than the current waiting period that could reach 6 to 7 days.

Aside from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, testing facilities are now available at the San Lazaro Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.

Testing should now include patients even with mild symptoms “because they can still be a source of infection in the community without us knowing it,” said Solante, who heads the infectious diseases section of the government-run San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

“We will have a good idea of how many are really infected with the virus,” he said, adding that positive cases with mild symptoms may be kept in home quarantine and isolated from the rest of the family.

Exposed family members should be placed under strict quarantine, he said.

Unless a confirmed COVID-19 patient with mild symptoms has underlying conditions such as diabetes, or if he or she is old, he or she is not likely to worsen into a moderate or severe case, which could happen in 3 to 4 days, the doctor said.

DEPLETED

The long wait for test results could also deplete the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), which include goggles, face masks, gowns and disposable shoe cover, he said.

Once a patient under investigation is confined, he is kept in an isolation room where doctors, nurses, and other hospital attendants need to wear PPEs.

Assuming 7 people attend to such a patient in 3 shifts, the hospital needs 21 sets of protective equipment for a lone patient suspected of having COVID-19, said Solante.

“The longer you wait for those (COVID-19) tests, you’ll be using a lot of PPEs and that’s the reason why most hospitals are depleted of PPEs,” he said.

The entire island of Luzon is currently under strict community quarantine to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which has killed 18 people out 230 confirmed cases as of March 20.

By keeping people at home and limiting movement outside to what’s essential, authorities were hoping to flatten the growth curve of the virus within a month.

“We risk our lives because of the call of duty and I sincerely call on those in the community to seriously comply with our community quarantine,” Solante said.

“It’s the one strategy that hopefully will eventually work.”