Project ARK has officially started its pilot run in the City of Manila. Launched last April 24, the massive rapid testing initiative in Sampaloc successfully conducted 854 tests out of the target 1,500 sampling size, and had consequently identified 31 persons as potential cases of Covid-19. A similar activity was conducted in Tondo, while the community went under a two-day hard lockdown last Sunday, May 3. A total of 1,409 successful tests were done utilizing the antibody rapid test kits donated by Angkas. Of these, 109 tests were potential cases.
Those identified are immediately directed to the appropriate hospital facilities for confirmatory testing.
Project ARK, an initiative led by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion bands together the country’s biggest economic and business players to ramp up mass testing in order to safely and gradually reopen the economy. The gathered data will be used so everyone can gain a better visibility of—and formulate better strategies to combat—the virus.
“On behalf of the people of the City of Manila, thank you very much for your efforts,” said Manila Mayor aisko Moreno. “Malaking bagay ito sa amin. It was very timely when Project ARK was introduced to us because we had to address two districts of Manila: District 4 which is Sampaloc, and District 1 which is Tondo. We are very grateful to our donor Angkas, Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion, and all the groups who are part of this project kasi we were able to take the opportunity to do mass testing by rapid tests.”
Barangay implementation is part of the project’s bayanihan core. In addition to encouraging the regular screening of employees to ensure safety at work, Project ARK is shorter by companies that are funding the voluntary testing of barangay residents.
Rapid testing protocol
In a May 3 press briefing, Dr. Minguita Padilla, Medical Team Leader and Clinical Associate Professor at the UP College of Medicine, noted that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how often one should test employees and residents. Those who are tested to be positive for the IgG antibody, for instance, may have some immunity to the coronavirus already and thus do not have to be tested as frequently as those who have never had the disease (i.e., those who are negative for the IgG and IgM antibodies) and are thus more vulnerable. Those who belong to high-risk groups (such as client-facing staff and the elderly) and/or go home to barangays that have been identified as hot zones, on the other hand, may have to be tested with more regularity.
“This is a new virus. We are learning a lot of things,” Dr. Padilla explains. “We are changing our protocol depending on what we learn everyday. It is a living protocol. So the possibility is every two weeks. If you’re high-risk or if you develop symptoms, then by all means test, even if wala pang two weeks.”
George Royeca, Chief Transport Advocate of Angkas, also points out the other ways to mitigate risks. Employers, he says, can consider work-from-home schemes or shifting schedules for those who really need to report for work at a physical office. “We really have to change this mindset na pansamantala lang po ito… This is our new normal. Cost of doing business na ito ngayon sa ating ekonomiya.”
A delicate balancing act
Concepcion emphasizes the importance of both life and livelihood and of mass testing as a prerequisite to safely reopening the economy. Moreno agrees with the sentiment: “Binabalanse talaga namin. If we are to lock it down, magugutom ang lahat. I-address ang Covid-19, i-address ang kabuhayan ng tao pero we should impose and follow regulations…” The mayor adds that his city could not afford another ECQ. “We may have different approaches but we must act in synchronicity. Flattening the curve is the minimum goal of every government unit… There is no right formula, but we have to try.”
To date, Project ARK has secured close to one million Antibody Rapid Test kits and is already prepping the cities of Makati and Antipolo for their own massive rapid testing endeavors this week. They are currently in talks with the local governments of Quezon City, Pasig City, and Region 4A in Batangas for possible collaboration.