DOH says some patients are stuck in hospital tents due to COVID-19 test processing time

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2020 01:15 PM

Nurses check on patients in a tent reserved for those with respiratory ailments. Their COVID-19 swab tests are pending. Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Department of Health on Thursday said the reason why some patients are spending time in hospital tents is because of the time it takes to get the result of COVID-19 tests.

“Now the issue here really is, the turnover of patients in the holding area can only be made fast if the results of the RT-PCR tests are fast,” said Health Undersecretary Leopoldo “Bong” Vega during the launch of the One Hospital Command Center.

The DOH said last July 29 that the turnaround time for PCR tests is 48 to 56 hours, and 24 to 27 hours for GeneXpert machines, which are semi-automated.

Vega explained that some hospitals are using tents as holding areas for patients that have yet to receive their COVID-19 test results.

“These patients who are probable or suspect cannot enter the hospital unless and after they are (found) positive,” he said.

This after news reports came out that Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Manila is already fully occupied and has placed patients inside air-conditioned tents since they cannot turn them away.

Vega attributed the delay in testing to limited manpower.

The DOH and its accredited laboratories have long been struggling to increase the country’s actual testing capacity. Among the problems faced in the past are supply shortages, limited manpower and even natural disasters.

“On the ground, you know very well the testing sometimes, and even the clearance of results, would come in days,” Vega said.

The health official said the use of tents is an “administrative concern”, but what is important is that COVID and non-COVID patients are separated.

He said the holding areas served as a “defense mechanism” for more hospitals at the start of the pandemic to ensure that patients are properly handled.

“Those who are positive with the results of a positive RT-PCR…can directly access the COVID-19 stations or wards,” he said.

Vega said it is expected that a longer stay in tents would be harder for the patients.

“I think hospital administrators or hospital directors must come up with innovations about how they can best put their patients in a holding area, whether they want to put it in a tent or a section of a hospital,” he said.

Since the end of July, COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila and nearby provinces have spiked, and has led to many hospitals having their COVID wards fully occupied. The DOH has attributed this to the gradual opening up of the economy.

The record-high numbers of additional cases prompted health workers to ask for a “timeout,” which was partially granted by the government with the imposition of the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine for Mega Manila.

The government has required 20% of beds in private hospitals and 30% of beds in public hospitals to be allotted for COVID-19 patients. But Vega said many hospitals have not been able to fully comply because of limitations.

Because of such problems, the government set up the One Hospital Command mechanism to ease the coordination of hospitals and ensure that patients turned away by fully occupied hospitals are properly transferred to other facilities.