By Freddie Lazaro
LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc has announced that the province is set to open a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing laboratory at the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC) in Batac City.
The MMMH&MC has been at the forefront in the management of probable, suspect, confirmed cases in the province since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it has the structure for a molecular biology laboratory, the medical institution is only capable of offering GeneXpert-TB and HIV viral load tests due to limited equipment.
To date, Region 1 has no existing molecular diagnostic laboratory to cater to COVID-19 testing. MMMH&MC has been sending samples for molecular testing to the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC), the nearest designated sub-national reference laboratory to Ilocos Norte.
“Testing is probably the most important. It’s a three-pronged approach. First, we control the borders. Second, isolate those who may be potential candidates. Finally, mass testing,” Manotoc explained.
The provincial government of Ilocos Norte has allotted a budget amounting to almost P5 million for the procurement of molecular biology laboratory equipment.
The laboratory’s Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) set up is composed of a RT PCR machine, a refrigerated clinical centrifuge, a vortex mixer, a UV-Vis spectrophotometer, a reagent refrigerator, a scientific ultralow freezer, a rotary dry block heater, and an ice block incubator.
“Our rapid test kits arrived on May 1 and our PCR machine was delivered on May 6. After that there is still a process of operationalizing the machine,” Manotoc said.
Rapid test kits can process swab samples in 15 minutes. Still, DOH protocols require that samples should be tested using a more accurate method to validate results.
“The paramount requirement [of mass testing] would be our borders will be very secured and our quarantine facilities are also perfect. We will use our rapid test kits on those who are quarantining and also our frontliners,” he elaborated.
To improve its COVID-19 testing capacity, the provincial government of Ilocos Norte has requested the DOH-Region 1 to inspect and accredit its Gene Expert Facilities located at Governor Roque B. Ablan Sr. Memorial Hospital, Dingras District Hospital, Batac City Health Office, and Bacarra Health Unit.
Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte had recorded two confirmed cases of COVID-19, and both patients have recovered. In more than a month now, the province has not recorded any additional confirmed cases.