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Expanded testing: Cornering the coronavirus, one test at a time

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Source: Department of Health's Beat COVID Today, May 6 issue

By Argie C. Aguja
Senior Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

Priority testing for COVID-19 covers symptomatic individuals, pregnant women, the elderly, the immuno-compromised and medical workers with symptoms

On May 7, the number of confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the Philippines breached the 10 thousand-mark, reaching 10,343 cases with 685 deaths and 1,618 recoveries. The country is now among 40 nations worldwide that registered 10,000 or more COVID-19 cases.

To stem the rise of COVID-19 cases, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has set up 132 sample collecting booths nationwide and ramped up the accreditation of COVID-19 laboratories as the government initiates expanded testing to include symptomatic individuals, pregnant women, the elderly, the immuno-compromised and medical workers showing symptoms.

According to the May 6 issue of Beat COVID-19 Today published by the Department of Health (DoH), there have been 126,713 unique individuals tested for COVID-19. A total of 140,134 tests have been conducted and 235,311 test supplies remain in the national stockpile. The 22 laboratories licensed to run real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests have managed to process 7,130 tests per day, inching closer to the DoH target of 8,000 daily tests processed.

“Testing is the cornerstone of our response,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said, emphasizing the importance of conducting more tests in order to ensure early detection of cases and timely isolation of confirmed COVID-19 patients to mitigate the risk of community transmission.

The DoH earlier stressed that those most at risk for COVID-19 will be given priority for the expanded testing. Based on the Department Memorandum No. 2020-0151, the following reflects the sub-groups of at-risk individuals arranged in order of greatest to lowest need for testing:

• Subgroup A – Patients or healthcare workers with severe or critical symptoms

• Subgroup B – Patients or healthcare workers with mild symptoms, relevant history of travel/contact and considered vulnerable (elderly, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc.)

• Subgroup C – Patients or healthcare workers with mild symptoms, relevant history of travel/contact

• Subgroup D – Patients or healthcare workers with no symptoms butrelevant travel history/contact.

Anyone who requests to get tested must first be assessed by a licensed health professional who shall determine where he falls into any of the prioritized groups (Subgroup A and B) and whether he should get tested immediately. Upon assessment, the patient will be instructed to proceed to the most accessible health facility for testing. An RT-PCR test will be used to confirm COVID-19 among patients. Afterwards, a patient may be advised to undergo home quarantine or proceed to a community quarantine facility.

“Those who think they are infected will still need to be assessed by a health professional. They can do this in the comfort of your home through Telemedicine consultations. We want to avoid people crowding and lining up in our testing centers to demand for tests even if they do not experience any symptom,” explained Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire during a virtual presser.

The DoH recommends calling the 24/7 Telemedicine Hotline or consulting health professionals from the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) to check if one needs to be tested.

Metro Manila residents may call 02-8424-1724 or 02-7798-8000. Those outside NCR may call 1555 (for all networks) and the (02) 8942-6843 hotline for medical advice. Once confirmed, the patient will be referred to the nearest available facility for testing.

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