By Minerva BC Newman
CEBU CITY – The number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in Central Visayas is now at 1081, with Cebu City having the highest number of afflicted persons with 900, Cebu province, 27; and Mandaue and Lapulapu cities, 89 and 39 cases, respectively.
The provinces of Bohol and Negros Oriental have transitioned from an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 1 to May 31, while Siquijor has consistently remained COVID-19 free since the virus wrought havoc globally.
Department of Health-Region 7 (DOH-7) data showed that the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapulapu were areas of utmost concern, and Central Visayas local officials and health experts have recommended for strategic mass testing for the 10 percent of the total number of households per barangay of every city.
This would mean mass testing for 46,896 individuals based on the data of each of the City Health Department of the three cities.
According to DOH-7 Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas, it was necessary to include health workers and repatriates on quarantine data for them to be able to closely monitor the updates and progress of these groups with COVID-19 cases. DOH-7 data showed that there were now four health workers and 17 repatriates OFWs on quarantine that have tested positive.
Bernadas said that since there was documentation of recovered cases, who could eventually test positive under Real Time – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), “we could not ascertain for now if these positive results are really active infections or due to the presence of viral remnants of a previous infection that they have already recovered from.”
He went on to note that DOH Central Visayas Center for Health Development (CVCHD) will do more validation for this group.
“Antibody testing will be done to see if they have had previous exposures to the virus. They will also remain in isolation for 14 days as per protocol and with the Overseas Workers Administration (OWWA), they will continue to monitor the repatriates and give them the appropriate medical care needed,” Bernadas added
Meanwhile health experts in the region have recommended the use of Rapid Antibody-Based Diagnostic Test (RDT) for the mass testing as a conduit to the Real Time – Polymerase Chain Reaction (rtPCR)Testing in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.
DOH-7 Medical Specialist and chief Pathologist Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said that while rtPCR will test the presence or absence of the SARS-CoV 2, both tests were not foolproof.
“In our fight against COVID-19, testing is an essential tool. PCR, being the gold standard will test the presence or absence of the virus, aiming to know if a person is infected,” Loreche added.
The rapid antibody test aims to test for the antibodies, whose aim is to establish that a person has been exposed to an infected individual or is presently with the infection, without knowing it. This is especially true for those who don’t manifest any symptoms at all, Loreche explained.
Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) Medical Chief Dr. Gerardo Aquino Jr., mentioned the capacities and capabilities of local testing sites if a massive rtPCR testing will be done. The rtPCR test involves processes that take considerable amount of time, supplies and resources, dedicated and accredited facilities and equipment, specialized training, and proficient manpower.
Aquino added that testing supplies and resources available and in view of mapping out prevalence and community transmission of the viral disease, doing rtPCR testing on a massive scale “may lead to inadvertently jeopardizing those in most need of it, especially those with severe cases admitted at hospitals whose diagnosis must be determined the soonest possible time.”
Aquino however, assured the public that the VSMMC Subnational Laboratory was working to keep up with the rising number of samples, and was supportive of a strategic mechanism in mapping COVID-19 transmission in our local community so that testing resources are efficiently used.
Bernadas said that with RDT mass testing, decision makers can decide whether to pursue a downgrade of community quarantine or not.
“These test results can now be used to help in mapping populations and areas in the locality that can serve to guide the decision makers into checking the effectiveness or in setting up control measures and even modifying these measures in pursuing decisions for community quarantine,” Bernadas added.