(Photo by CAR Formoso)

The Ospital Ng Palawan (ONP) becomes the first COVID-19 testing facility in the MIMAROPA region, after acquiring its license to operate from the Department of Health (DOH).

Dr. Mario Baquilod, regional director of MIMAROPA, in a health advisory issued Friday, said that the ONP complied with all the requirements imposed by the Regulations, Licensing and Enforcement Division (RLED) team of Center for Health Development (CHD-MIMAROPA).

“Ngayong may license to operate na ang Ospital Ng Palawan, maaari na silang magsagawa ng ng COVID-19 testing gamit ang GeneXpert machine,” Baquilod said.

Expanded Testing

The local hospital’s breakthrough in infectious disease monitoring, aided by the local governments of Puerto Princesa City and Palawan, set into motion the expanded testing for COVID-19 in the province.

Dr. Dean Palanca, incident commander from the City Health Office (CHO), reiterated that the DOH algorithm would determine if an individual would be subject for the COVID-19 testing.

Under the guidelines, cases have been grouped into four categories, as follows: A, those who have moderate to severe symptoms and with exposure to a COVID-19 positive patient; B, those who show mild symptoms and with travel history or a direct exposure to a confirmed case, or the “vulnerable” group such pregnant women and the elderlies; C, those who have mild symptoms; and D, returning “local stranded individuals”, or those who have a travel history from a place with known local transmission of the deadly infection.

“Hindi dahil sinabing expanded testing ay para sa buong barangay. Kung ang individual ay taga-Puerto [Princesa City], hindi naman lumabas [ng probinsya], at walang direct exposure, hindi sila makakapasok sa category,” Palanca said.

The specific cartridges, or the Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2, would be outsourced from United States (US) and will be distributed by the health department. 16 GeneXpert testing centers throughout the country sought for licensing, based on DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0191, which would subsequently affect the distribution.

Palanca said that they were anticipating “at least 100” cartridges from the DOH, and pointed out that the local government is looking for other suppliers.

“May budget para bumili, at tina-try pa din namin kung makakakuha tayo somewhere else para may buffer tayo at hindi umasa sa DOH cartridges,” Palanca added.

Means and Methods

Puerto Princesa City is set to start its expanded testing on May 18.

Mayor Lucilo Bayron, presiding in a press briefing, said that the designated two-storey facility in Sitio Magarwak, Barangay Bacungan was at 95 percent completion and would be ready by Monday. The quarantine facility, which could also house 60 patients, was a military training center that was repurposed for the ongoing health crisis. It would also serve as the designated testing facility to ensure that proper protocols would be followed.

“Lahat ito mako-complete by Monday, kailangan na lang supply ng kuryente,” Bayron said.

Dr. Pia Atencio, in a separate interview, said that individuals, who are already prioritized based on the categories set, would be brought to the designated testing facility. Four ambulances and other vehicles are on standby to carry the patients that would be brought in for testing.

“Titingnan muna ‘yong process na hindi minamadali para hindi ma-break ‘yong infection protocol at hindi ma-overwhelm ‘yong mga medical technologists,” Atencio said.

The City has identified the initial number of individuals who would undergo the expanded testing, not exceeding 100, based on the categorization.

However, Atencio stressed that while waiting for the GeneXpert cartridges from the DOH, samples would still be sent to Metro Manila.

“Habang wala pa ‘yong cartridges, [ipapadala] sa Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) at San Lazaro (Hospital) pa muna tayo,” Atencio added.

Once ONP’s GeneXpert testing starts its operations, the local health authorities would no longer send samples elsewhere.

“Confirmatory test din ang GeneXpert, based on the DOH guidelines, kaya no need to send samples through planes once we receive the cartridges,” Atencio said.

Rapid diagnostic test (RDT) kits would be used for the expanded testing. Those who would return positive from the RDT would be swabbed for confirmatory test and will be immediately isolated within the facility.

Some 4,878 rapid diagnostic test (RDT) kits are expected to arrive this week to augment the 1,415 RDT kits the City has earlier purchased.

The COVID-19 testing for select individuals would be free of charge as it will be shouldered by the city government, according to Palanca.

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.