February 6, 2023

The plan of doing 200 tests per day in Baguio has stopped last week due to problems in the delivery of transport media and test kits and calibration of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines at the Baguio General Hospital sub-national laboratory, among other reasons, Asst. City Health Officer Celia Brillantes informed the city council in its May 4 session.

The halt resulted in a backlog of 1,618 unprocessed specimens gathered from the Cordillera provinces and regions 1 and 2,as of May 5, said BGHMC anatomic and clinical pathologist Karen Tuba-ang, in an online briefing held the same day.

For Baguio, more than 500 specimens have not been processed as of press time, as Brillantes said that unless mass tests resume, the CHSO or the local Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases cannot gauge the real Covid-19 situation in the city.

Pending release of results, Brillantes said people with mild symptoms of the virus were told to self-isolate.

As of last week, Baguio has 30 cases with one death.

Meanwhile, BGHMC Chief Ricardo Ruñez Jr. said the 11 health workers and one employee of the hospital who tested positive for Covid-19 last week of April are all in stable condition. Two nurses were discharged last week.

“All patients are doing well. Hopefully they will recover in no time,” Ruñez said, adding that no one from the other employees who were tested along with the 12 from BGH showed positive results.

Last May 1, BGHMC received 3,000 PCR test kits, but processing of specimens cannot be done quickly as medical technologists have to familiarize themselves with the new test kits, said Tuba-ang.

BGHMC previously used test kits from China but the new ones are from South Korea.

Tuba-ang said 190 samples were initially processed using the new PCR kits but medtechs cannot rush processing the other samples as other brands of kits work differently.

“Kailangan muna naming gamayin ‘yung mga bagong kit. The PCR kit does not work like a pregnancy test kit,” Tuba-ang said of the complex procedure in the processing of specimens.

Tuba-ang said that submission of specimen; assessment of specimen if these adhered to standards in collection, handling, and transport; encoding; extraction of viral RNA to inactivate the virus, and addition of reagents to the specimen takes about 12 hours.

“Extracting the viral RNA needs a skill and mixing of reagents is done manually,” Tuba-ang said, reason why it takes time to release the results.

According to the Regional Institute for Tropical Medicine, results are usually out in 48 hours.

Ruñez added that apart from the need for kits, transport media, and biosecurity cabinets, personnel are also crucial to ensure that results are accurate.

To be assigned to a biomolecular laboratory, a medical technologist must have gone years of specialized training.

For the BGHMC sub-national laboratory, its most senior medical technologist has been trained for eight years, while the others, five and three years.

To augment manpower, several medical technologists have been undergoing training since April. 

In the management committee meeting at City Hall last April 27, Mayor Benjamin Magalong told a representative of the Department of Health-Cordillera to streamline protocols in testing to hasten the processing of samples.

The DOH representative said that the shortage in kits is being experienced globally and the protocols it is currently implementing is already a simplified process.

Despite the mayor’s complaint, the BGHMC sub-national laboratory is in top five out of the 19 laboratories around the country with the fastest turn-around time. From the previous 300 specimens per day, the lab can now process 500 spe-cimens per day.

DOH-Cordillera Officer-in-Charge Amelita Pangilinan said mass testing in the provinces is ongoing.

She said  that once the BGHMC laboratory resumes full operation, cases are expected to rise because of the mass testing.

She added with mass testing, health authorities are able to isolate then treat possible carriers of the virus.

On May 5, Abra Provincial Health Officer Alex Bayubay said the two have tested positive in the province, based on rapid diagnostic tests.

Confirmatory tests have been done and are awaiting results. Both are under isolation at the Bangued isolation unit.

In Ifugao, the emergency room and outpatient department of the Ifugao General Hospital were closed for disinfection.

IGH Chief of Hospital Joseph Bulayungan said due to the exposure of some staff to a Covid-19 probable case and contamination of the emergency room and the outpatient department, said units have been closed momentarily.

Patients were referred to the rural health units or at the Panopdopan District Hospital, in the meantime. The staff who got exposed to the patient was advised to isolate. – Rimaliza A. Opiña