With license to operate, Northern Mindanao to start coronavirus testing

Bobby Lagsa
The Department of Health 10-TB Reference Center (DOH-10) and the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) are granted a License to Operate (LTO) as testing centers

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Northern Mindanao region can now start testing locals for the novel coronavirus, as the Department of Health 10-TB Reference Center (DOH-10) and the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) were granted a License to Operate (LTO) as testing centers by the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) on Thursday, May 14.

From the start of the outbreak, the Cagayan de Oro government had been lobbying to the Department of Health (DOH) to have its own testing centers instead of having to send specimens to Davao City or Metro Manila. 

The local government had even purchased two units of the Bio Rad CFX96 Touch Real-Time Detection System, a Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machine considered the gold standard of COVID-19 laboratory equipment, prior to the license grant. A third unit was purchased on Friday, May 15. (READ: FAST FACTS: Steps in a coronavirus PCR-based test)

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno said Davao’s Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), one of the accredited testing hospitals, has already been burdened with swab samples from all over Mindanao.

“We expect that our regional neighbors will be sending their specimens here, because this is a service to the people. It cannot be [only Cagayan de Oro residents] who can use these [machines], just because we are the ones who purchased it,” Moreno said. 

DOH-10 and NMMC have also recalibrated their existing GeneXpert machines, originally dedicated to tuberculosis testing for the entire region, to allow for COVID-19 testing as well. According to the LTO, the machines will be calibrated back to their original use after 3 months.

Another RT-PCR machine purchased by a private agricultural corporation will also be donated to either DOH-10 or NMMC.

An Applied Biosystem Real Time 7500 PCR machine, set to arrive soon, will also be used by NMMC.

Dr Bernard Rocha of the NMMC said they can do up to 36 tests per day.

“We can test 3 swab samples in one hour, and based on DOH guidelines we can operate the gene expert machine for 12 to 16 hours a day, depending on our supply of cartridges provided by the DOH,” Rocha said.

Dr Joselito Retuya, resident epidemiologist at the city health office, said they will meet with DOH-10 officials to discuss guidelines for either a city-wide prevalence survey, rapid diagnostic tests, or targeted rapid diagnostic tests for identified barangays in the next few days.

As of writing, Cagayon de Oro has 8 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 4 deaths, one recovery, and 3 still in quarantine at one of the city’s 8 isolation units. (READ: Misamis Oriental gov, other groups want Cagayan de Oro under lockdown– Rappler.com