5,700 COVID-19 testing backlog at RITM due to staff quarantine, broken equipment — DOH

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 15 2020 12:09 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health explained on Wednesday that the large COVID-19 testing backlog at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) is due to broken equipment, increase in sample submissions, and understaffing as a number of employees are undergoing quarantine. 

“Actually ang RITM nag-scale down nung isang araw. Last week pa namin mino-monitor 'yung situation nila,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual media briefing on Wednesday morning.

(Actually, the RITM scaled down the other day. We have been monitoring their situation since last week.)

“Unang-una nagkaroon ulit ng pag-quarantine ng mga tao ang RITM dahil nagkaroon na naman ng positive case sa kanila. So they had to do contact tracing and some of these employees na gumagawa sa lab ay na-quarantine sila,” she added.

(First of all, their personnel had to undergo quarantine again because they had another positive case. So they had to do contact tracing and some of these employees working in the lab were quarantined.)

Vergeire said one or two of the machines used for COVID-19 testing were also broken and would need to be fixed.

Besides scaling down, she said laboratories in the country also had to deal with more samples being submitted.

“Mayroon talagang increased submission of specimen ngayon dahil alam natin may surge ng mga kaso, tumataas ang mga kaso,” she said.

(There is really an increased submission of specimen now because as we know there is a surge in cases, an increase in cases.)

She said the expanded testing protocol, which now includes social workers and jail personnel, among others, also contributed to the increase in samples.

Based on DOH data analyzed by the ABS-CBN Data Analytics team, 5,703 of the 13,457 testing backlog as of July 13 are from RITM. This number has slightly gown down from the day before when RITM had 7,753 of the total 15,122 testing backlog.

Data from DOH. Graph from ABS-CBN Data Analytics

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines, RITM was the only laboratory that ran polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. It has also played an important role in helping other laboratories gain accreditation for PCR testing. Today, there are more than 80 laboratories in the country that are accredited to run COVID-19 tests.

Another laboratory logging a high backlog is the Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City, with 4,500 samples awaiting processing. The DOH has not explained the cause of the backlog.

Vergeire assured the public that the backlogged specimens do not stay for long with the RITM and are instead sent to nearby laboratories.

This strategy was also done in April when the RITM had to deal with a substantial number of its employees testing positive for COVID-19.

“We are now coordinating with the Philippine Red Cross para 'yung backlog na iba maipakiusap natin sa kanila,” Vergeire said.

(We are now coordinating with the Philippine Red Cross so they can take on the backlog.)

Despite the announced scale down, she said the RITM will still be accepting samples from patients of government hospitals.

The rest will be sent to other laboratories.