MANILA — The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) said on Tuesday it was still investigating how its employees acquired COVID-19 as the first patient did not work in their laboratories.
“Yung first case namin encoder siya. So wala siyang exposure sa lab, wala siyang exposure sa patient. So ang suspect namin community-acquired sya,” said RITM Director Celia Carlos in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
(Our first case was an encoder. [The employee] did not have any exposure to the lab, no exposure to patients. So our suspicion is that it’s community-acquired COVID-19.)
“So nag-contact tracing kami, even those who were asymptomatic basta na-expose sa kanya. 'Yung iba dun nag-positive,” she said.
(We did contact tracing, even those who were asymptomatic but exposed to the employee. The others also tested positive.)
She said they have already tested 800 to 900 employees.
The Department of Health on Tuesday confirmed 43 RITM employees have already tested positive for the virus.
The RITM earlier announced that it would scale down its operations from April 16 to April 24 as it conducts decontamination of facilities and testing of their staff. The facility was the first to undertake COVID-19 tests in the country.
While the Alabang facility will still process specimens from Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Pasay, it will be referring received specimens to other subnational laboratories for other COVID-19 testing in the meantime.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a televised briefing Tuesday that they are making sure RITM employees have enough personal protective equipment and have undergone necessary training.
“Nag-issue na rin po tayo ng mas istriktong guidelines ang Infection Prevention and Control Committee at Safety Office ng RITM upang mabawasan pa ang posibilidad na mahawa sa impeksyon,” she said.
(The Infection Prevention and Control Committee and Safety Office of RITM has also issued stricter guidelines to reduce the possibility of further spread of the infection.)
Carlos said their staff are now asked to go on meal breaks one person at a time or to adjust their shifts to reduce the number of people reporting to work at the same time. Some employees not assigned in the lab have started working from home.
Carlos said while the RITM was able to process 1,500 to 2,000 tests before, they have gone back to over 1,000 tests a day including backlogs.
Vergeire said their testing capacity is now at 1,200 tests a day.
Among the laboratories certified to run COVID-19 tests, the RITM has the biggest capacity after it tapped more labs within its compound and started more work shifts.
Carlos admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic “is one of the hardest” outbreaks they’ve dealt with.
“I’ve been here for more than 30 years. This one is more difficult to handle,” she said, explaining that it’s hard to fight an enemy that you don’t know much about.- With a report from Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News