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Valenzuela City Starts Country’s First Targeted COVID-19 Mass Testing
Valenzuela City Starts Country’s First Targeted COVID-19 Mass Testing
Valenzuela City Starts Country’s First Targeted COVID-19 Mass Testing
Photo by: Rafael Delfino
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Valenzuela City Starts Country’s First Targeted COVID-19 Mass Testing
Valenzuela City Starts Country’s First Targeted COVID-19 Mass Testing
Photo by: Rafael Delfino
View Gallery

What was once just a dream Valenzuelanos hoped for finally pushes through this Saturday, April 11, 2020 – as the country’s first localized, targeted COVID-19 mass testing begins in Valenzuela City.

For many Filipinos, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed due to COVID-19 brings feelings of uncertainty thinking on when the pandemic would end. As the government finds ways to gain a wider reach in its relief operations, a sustainable approach to contain the virus becomes more than a necessary to fight the tough, invisible enemy.

The groundwork

Last April 04, 2020, The Medical City (TMC) and Valenzuela City inked a deal on the first public-private partnership (PPP) to conduct a COVID-19 mass testing.

With Senator WIN Gatchalian, Mayor REX Gatchalian and the City Doctors working on the plan for weeks, it was known that TMC was still undergoing its Stage 5 accreditation from the Department of Health (DOH) before it can conduct its own testing. With high hopes, Valenzuelanos can only wait for the accreditation to be granted.

Luckily, just days after the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), TMC’s laboratory was now Stage 5-accredited by the DOH this April 08, 2020, meaning the hospital may start conducting confirmatory testing on possible COVID-19 positive patients and provide Valenzuela City the service of processing test kits using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine.

Elated in his Facebook post, Mayor REX stated that “Our city can start na [now] its own localized targeted mass testing. Lahat po ng [All] PUI, PUM, OFW, frontliners at mga magpapakita po ng symptoms ay papatest natin ng libre [and anyone who will show symptoms will be tested for free]! Start na po tayo [We can now start] this Saturday! We hit the ground running!!!”

As of April 11, 2020, Valenzuela City has forty-one (41) confirmed COVID-19 cases, four (4) of which have recovered and four (4) were recorded deaths. Two hundred forty-two (242) are PUIs while there are two hundred ninety-five (295) PUMs.

Locking its target today, Valenzuela City now starts with the testing of its five hundred thirty-seven (537) PUIs and PUMs. Twenty-five (25) persons will undergo testing per day and the turnaround time for the results to be released is two (2) days. Depending on the availability, TMC can expand the capacity to up to fifty (50) tests per day.

Believing that time is of the essence, the call for COVID-19 mass testing in the Philippines is something Filipinos aspire for. The DOH is now considering this endeavor and “will soon release guidelines” on the details of the mass testing which is still under deliberation by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

Finding ways  

During the first days when the ECQ was imposed in Luzon, the City Health Office and the City Officials were all eyes on how to maximize resources with the responsibilities on the shoulders of the local government units (LGUs).

To put efforts in its best use, Valenzuela City’s take on the targeted mass testing is not based on considering “a large population by mere suspect,” as logistics would entail massive efforts from the local government to continuously test, supply needed resources and isolate the population given the City only has two (2) central isolation units with seventy (70) beds each.  

“At least for now the resources can be targeted… We identified the positives, we either classify them as asymptomatic or with mild symptoms. We can house them on our central isolation units. Those who will develop severe symptoms… We’ll bring them to the hospitals. That is the significance -- making it more focused in the resources where it is needed the most,” Mayor REX further explained.

Delays on the COVID-19 test results are one of the problems by the DOH due to lack of availability of testing kits. Additionally, testing capacities of laboratories are also limited – with most of the accredited laboratories to process COVID-19 tests were initially run by government hospitals.

“The delays are purely because everybody has their tests processed there [accredited government hospitals]. So with that factor we want to use our own phase. We set our own time table. We set our directions for ourselves,” Mayor REX added.

As with the purchased test kits of Valenzuela City, Dr. Amelia Fibra, City Health Pathologist, said that “The kit we are using now is a commercial kit… It was developed in [South] Korea…The kit that we are using now is already validated and has a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.”

Compared to the other test kits, the test kits purchased by the City are already considered confirmatory with only one (1) testing. Given the turnaround time of two (2) days for the results, this posed as a big help in monitoring COVID-19 cases in the City.

“We need to have two (2) of the three (3) genes before you can say it is positive. If there is [only] one gene determined you should have another test before you can say it is positive otherwise you have to repeat the swabbing… For the kit that we purchased, we already have three (3) target genes… It is confirmatory,” Dr. Fibra further explained.

The bigger picture

Citing De La Salle University Southeast Asia Research Center and Hub, Senator WIN Gatchalian shared that tests conducted by the Philippines is only at 224 tests for a population of 1 million, with Vietnam having 1,174 tests and Singapore with 11,110 tests for a population of 1 million, respectively.

Urging for mass testing starting with the local level, Senator WIN believes that LGUs are at the forefront of the battle to contain the virus so as not to affect thousands of Filipinos and claim more lives. 

Ang laban na ito LGU ang dapat nasa una eh… Kung maco-contain natin, mai-isolate natin, at mahanap natin sa baba palangHindi na kailangang dalhin ‘yan sa mga containment areas gaya ng PICC, Philippine Arena... Dapat na lokal na pamahalaan ang mag-implement ng mass testing dahil sila ang nakakaalam kung nasaan lahat ng PUIs, PUMs at frontliners nila (The LGU is in the forefront of this battle… If we can contain, isolate and find those [with COVID-19] in the local level… We don’t need to bring them in the containment areas such as PICC, Philippine Areana. The LGU should implement the mass testing because they know the location of their PUIs, PUMs and frontliners),” Senator WIN stated.

Though confirmed COVID-19 cases might go up or remain the same due to the targeted mass testing currently being conducted in City, Senator WIN believes that mass testing is the key to see where the Philippines is now based on the testing capacity.

Ang best practices na nakikita natin… The more you test, the lesser the probability na dapat kang mag-lock down. That is the strategy na gusto naming gawin dito sa Valenzuela on a smaller scale. Hopefully, kung ma-prove itong effective, pwedeng i-replicate ito in a national scale (The best practices that we can see now is that the more you test, the lesser the probability of a lock down. That is the strategy that we want to do here in Valenzuela on a smaller scale. Hopefully if this is proven effective, this can be replicated in a national scale),” Senator WIN added.  

Further, the localized targeted mass testing with a faster turnaround time for the results is considered by Valenzuela City to not only focus on knowing where the City is in terms of the data of confirmed COVID-19 cases, but it also puts an individual’s welfare first – putting into heart their overall well-being.

“Once you are tested, the anxiety level is building up for waiting whether you are positive or negative. The beauty of this localized targeted mass testing is we control the kits. The local government owns the test kits, We can come up with our own protocols based on the national framework. The guarantee is two days turnaround. In 48 hours we can give you your test result,” Mayor REX affirmed.

2020-04-11 | By: Angelica R. Porciuncula / Public Information Office

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