Dr. Mario Baquilod during the DOH-CHD MIMAROPA virtual press conference on Wednesday.

The Department of Health (DOH) Center for Health Development (CHD) in MIMAROPA is ready to start the “expanded COVID-19 testing” this week that is aimed at determining the scope of the infectious disease problem being faced by the region.

Health regional director Dr. Mario Baquilod in a virtual press conference on Friday evening said that the health department will help the local government units (LGU) in “augmenting their resources” to enable the COVID-19 mass testing in MIMAROPA.

“Tayo ay magbibigay ng suporta at tulong sa mga LGU para masimulan ngayong linggo ang expanded COVID-19 testing. We will help in terms of technical and logistical support,” he said.

Provinces with reported active COVID-cases, which have a higher risk of community transmission, would be prioritized for testing.

Palawan has no active confirmed case after the lone COVID-positive patient left the island province on March 17.

Baquilod did not disclose further details on setting up a local testing center in Palawan after Puerto Princesa City mayor Lucilo Bayron pressed the regional office in assisting the city government for a DOH-certified testing facility.

There were five significant milestones in acquiring the testing certification which the CHD MIMAROPA recently endorsed for “evaluating the capabilities” of the local laboratory in the city.

Palawan remained to wait for 15 test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), which have been backlogged since last week.

High-Risk Individuals

Individuals who will undergo said mass testing will be ranked based on their symptoms, exposure, and “vulnerability”.

Health care workers with moderate to severe symptoms, especially those who have close contact with COVID-patients, would be prioritized for the confirmatory test.

The “vulnerable group”; or those who were pregnant, elderly, and with other co-morbidities such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes; would also be ranked higher on the list of individuals that would undergo the mass testing.

“Ang mga ite-test ay ‘yong mga individuals na mataas ang risk kagaya ng mga health care workers na may sintomas at may close contact with COVID-cases. Kasama na din dito ‘yong vulnerable group—‘yong mga 60 years old pataas, buntis, at ‘yong may high blood o sakit sa puso o diabetes,” Baquilod said.

How to be Tested

Baquilod said that “high-risk individuals” would be contacted by the local health authorities for an interview.

The matrix, which will be used by the municipal or rural health workers, would be forwarded to the regional health unit (RHU) for analysis and verification.

Free consultation would be conducted where “at-risk” individuals will be given “further instructions”.

“Tatawag ang RHU at sasamahan ang pasyente sa health facility kung saan sila bibigyan ng instructions. Kukunan sila ng specimen na ipapadala sa certified laboratory,” he said.

The Philippines has a total of 13 certified facilities mostly centered around mainland Luzon where there were higher reported cases.

Case Reporting

Dr. Emerose Moreno, regional incident commander, said that real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing would be used in the region’s bid for COVID-19 mass testing as this was the “gold standard” in confirming COVID-cases.

The case management reporting would also be aligned between the local and national systems.

“Magkakaroon ng re-alignment sa local and national system para maging tugma ang reporting ng case management,” she said.

However, the regional incident management team has yet to clarify how the classification would be simplified between the LGUs in the region which is composed of four island provinces.

A person under investigation (PUI) in Palawan, who died on Wednesday (April 15), was categorized by the local hospital as a “suspect” case but was reported by the provincial office as “probable”.

The regional health office has yet to transition on its case tracker, more than one week after the classification was changed by the national DOH.

Palawan has a total of 27 PUIs, 18 of whom were admitted in the different hospitals throughout the province while 9 remained under home quarantine, as of Friday afternoon (3 p.m., April 17).