COVID-19 testing backlog reaches 12,000 due to new labs, supply problems

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 10 2020 01:43 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) said on Friday that the country's COVID-19 testing backlog remains high- over 12,000 as of latest count- because of new laboratories and operational issues. 

“Ang ating backlogs ngayon medyo lumaki: 12,208 testing backlogs,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a Friday morning briefing.

(Our backlog increased: [we have a] 12,208 testing backlog.)

While government-accredited laboratories have been able to bring down the backlog in June, it rose again at the end of the month, even reaching more than 16,000 backlogs on July 3, according to DOH data analyzed by the ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team.

Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics team using DOH data

Vergeire said this is despite the fact that the average turnaround time for COVID-19 testing in GeneXpert laboratories is at 24 to 48 hours and those at reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) laboratories at 50 hours. The GeneXpert laboratories use semi-automated RT-PCR technology, allowing faster test results.

“May malalaking contributors dito (sa backlog) tulad ng mga laboratoryo na kakabukas lang ang they got overwhelmed nung dumating ang mga samples sa kanila,” she explained.

(There are large contributors here such as new laboratories that got overwhelmed with the influx of samples.)

She said the laboratories have already limited the samples that they are accepting to allow them to focus on the backlogs.

While it took a while for the government, the number of accredited laboratories jumped from just 19 laboratories in April to 49 in May, 74 in June and 83 as of Thursday.

“'Yung iba naman, this is still because of supplies na kailangan natin,” she added. “At 'yung iba marami kasing samples na dumarating ngayon dahil nag-expand ng protocols. Inaayos natin ito lahat.”

(The others are still because of supplies that are needed. And there are others that are receiving more samples because of our expanded protocols. We are addressing all of these.)

Limited supplies have long plagued the Philippines, limiting the number of tests its laboratories can do despite a testing capacity that is double the actual testing data.

The DOH attributed it to the global demand for laboratory supplies. 

There were also instances when some laboratories had to close down because of equipment damage due to weather.

Despite this, the laboratories managed to increase actual testing to a peak of 23,000 daily tests on July 7.

On Thursday, Vergeire said testing was averaging 19,459 daily.

However, this is still low compared to the combined testing capacity of more than 50,000 a day or more than 80 laboratories already accredited. 

So far, the laboratories have conducted 889,066 tests, which is still below the target of around 2 million Filipinos.

The government has also expanded the classification of people who can be tested using PCR. It plans to further expand testing to other frontliners and more asymptomatic individuals as it expects test kits enough for 10 million people.

Vergeire said they are helping laboratories deal with backlogs by designating zones and assigning nearby laboratories to help out in dealing with testing backlogs.