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Test targets: More nonmedical front-liners, asymptomatics

With the improved capacity of the country to test for the new coronavirus, the government will include more nonmedical front-liners and people showing no symptoms of the severe respiratory disease, according to Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of Task Force Against COVID-19.

Dizon, who also heads the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, on Thursday said the country had a maximum rated capacity of 41,990 tests per day as of June 3 with the accreditation of 52 laboratories—33 government-run and 19 private.

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“Our goal in expanded targeted testing is to search and test asymptomatics,” he said at a press briefing. “Almost 98 percent of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) cases are asymptomatic or mild, with 2 percent considered critical and severe. So we really need to expand our targeted testing.”

The government will expand the scope of its testing to cover nonhealth-care front-liners, such as law enforcers, security guards, transportation workers, and employees of establishments selling essential goods and services, he said.

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“These front-liners have prolonged exposure … All of them need to be tested even if they don’t have any symptoms,” Dizon said.

Actual tests Despite the higher capacity to test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the actual tests conducted averaged only 10,000 a day.

“We need to increase our actual testing as well, by being more aggressive and proactive in testing our asymptomatics,” he said.

He said the capacity to conduct tests was also increasing in provinces and cities outside Metro Manila and this would help test more returning overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and it would allow them to get home to their families quicker.

Dizon said companies or manpower agencies that hired these OFWs could hire their own testing laboratories.

Causes of delay

Other Filipinos returning to the Philippines can choose to have themselves tested by private laboratories, he said.

“This will be a faster way of getting the results of the test, maybe they can get it within two, three days and if they test negative, they can go home,” Dizon said.

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Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire last month explained that testing was hampered by, among other reasons, maintenance work on the laboratory equipment, the scaling down of operations of some laboratories, and the need for some employees to go on quarantine due to possible infection.

One solution is the mass hiring of encoders. Vergeire had described encoding data as a “tedious” part of the testing process.

634 new cases

On Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 634 new infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 20,382.

Of the new cases, 313 were considered “fresh,” or those validated within the past three days, while 321 were “late” cases, or those recorded at least four days earlier but only recently validated.

Of the fresh cases 114 were from Metro Manila, 101 from Central Visayas and one was a repatriate.

The DOH reported that the number of people who had recovered from the disease rose by 95 to 4,248 and the death toll climbed to 984 with 10 new fatalities.

Drug trials

Also on Thursday, the DOH said it would resume the use of the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine for patients participating in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Solidarity Trial, an international trial of several drugs to treat the disease.

Vergeire said the suspension of the use of hydroxychloroquine would be lifted “in accordance with the opinion of experts from WHO.”

Last week, the WHO temporarily suspended the enrolment of COVID-19 patients in the trial over concerns about hydroxychloroquine’s adverse effects on the heart.

The other drugs to be used in the trials are the investigational antiviral remdesivir; the antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV lopinavir with ritonavir; and lopinavir with ritonavir plus interferon beta-1a.

Vergeire said only 220 patients had been enrolled in the WHO trial more than a month since it started, less than half of the 500 patients to come from the Philippines.

“Since we are using investigational drugs, it has its own adverse reactions to patients. So we need to extensively talk to them and their relatives in order for us to get their informed consent, which is necessary for them to be enrolled,” she explained.

She said the trial had “stringent qualifications and criteria,” which exclude, among other patients, those under 18 years old and those with preexisting conditions.

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TAGS: asymptomatic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19 Philippines, health crisis, pandemic, Quarantine, testings, trials
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