Northern Mindanao targets 200 coronavirus tests daily by June 1

Bobby Lagsa

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Northern Mindanao targets 200 coronavirus tests daily by June 1
The Department of Health Northern Mindanao and two hospitals in Cagayan de Oro are expected to start testing this week

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines –  The Northern Mindanao region aims to conduct at least 200 coronavirus tests daily by June 1 with the arrival of more coronavirus test machines and the upgrading of its hospitals’ testing laboratories.

Dr. Ian Gonzales, Department of Health (DOH) Region 10 Infectious Diseases Cluster chief, said on Monday, May 18, that DOH-10, the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), and private hospital, Polymedic Medical Plaza, are expected to start testing this week.

Dr. Bernard Julius Rocha of the NMMC added that 5 Reverse Transcription- Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machines and 2 GeneXpert machines, originally dedicated to tuberculosis testing, have been recalibrated for coronavirus testing.

Rocha said that with the RT-PCR machines now on hand, they are aiming to do as much tests as they can.

“[The] 5 machines can test 90 samples in 6 hours, plus 36 to 48 tests daily using the GeneXpert Machine,” he said.

The city government purchased 3 RT-PCR machines, the DOH-10 bought one, and Gama Foods donated another RT-PCR machine to DOH which is expected to be used by NMMC.

The Polymedic Medical Plaza also has an RT-PCR machine but the hospital is still on the final stage of accreditation.

RT-PCR machines do not use live virus but extracts DNA samples from swab for testing.

US-made lab equipment

To augment the hospital’s testing capability, the CDO city government also purchased 3 US-made Bio Rad CFX96 Touch Real-Time Detection System, considered as the gold standard for COVID-19 laboratory equipment.

Two of the equipment arrived in Cagayan de Oro City 2 weeks ago while the 3rd  was ordered last week. This equipment will be lent to the DOH-10 and NMMC.

The DOH- TB Reference Center and the NMMC laboratory each has a GeneXpert Machine to be able to test COVID-19 for 3 months.

Rocha said that 1,140 GeneXpert cartridges called Xpert Xpress cartridges arrived in NMMC on Sunday, May 17.

“We will start testing using the GeneXpert by Wednesday, May 20,” Rocha said.

GeneXpert is faster than an RT-PCR machine but it requires handling live virus, making it more challenging in terms of safe handling. Its cartridges are proprietary, such that supplies should come from the manufacturer of the machine.

“We are handling live virus (for GeneXpert) so we need to ensure the safety of both the medical personnel processing the samples and the hospital itself,” said Gonzales.

The RITM has granted the DOH 10- TB Reference Center (DOH-10) and NMMC a license to operate (LTO) as testing centers on May 14. 

Biosafety trainings

Rocha said that they have yet to received test kits for RT-PCR but City Mayor Oscar Moreno said that the city government will find ways to purchase them and not rely solely on DOH supplies.

City epidemiologist Dr. Joselito Retuya said that those who will be prioritized in the testing are suspect and probably cases, health care workers, those with influenza-like illness (ILI) and acute respiratory illness, the elderly with comorbidities, and those in the prevalence survey using Rapid Diagnostic Test who need confirmatory RT-PCR tests.

Twenty-two medical technologists would also be starting their biosafety training this week, along with staff members from the DOH-Region 10, the NMMC, Polymedic Medical Plaza, the city-owned J.R. Borja General Hospital, and the City Health.

Gonzales said that experts from RITM and World Health Organization (WHO) will be conducting the training for the RT-PCR testing.

Rocha said that NMMC has re-developed their laboratory to Bio-Safety Level II standards to handle COVID-19 test samples.

“It is not easy to create a laboratory to handle COVID-19 tests. We need to redesign our laboratory, make the room negative pressure. We need to comply [with] the standards set,” Rocha said.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, there have been 8 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cagayan de Oro City, as of Sunday, with 4 deaths, and one recovery. Three patients are in a city isolation unit but they are expected to finish their quarantine period this week.

In the region, there are a total of 21 confirmed cases, with 7 deaths and 8 recoveries. The 6 other patients do not need hospital confinement.



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