Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Friday pushed for “pooled testing” for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as it may help prevent small and micro businesses as well as people from losing jobs and livelihood due to economic impact of the pandemic.
Concepcion expressed belief that Project ARK’s “pooled testing” initiative “will be a game changer” because it will “speed up the number of people that can be tested,” thus allowing the government to immediately trace and treat possible COVID-19 patients and contain the further spread of the virus.
“We definitely don’t want to see NCR (National Capital Region) lockdown. We definitely don’t wanna see moving back to ECQ,” Concepcion said in pushing for pooled testing in an online press conference.
“The next six months is when things start to improve. So if something happens wrong in the third quarter, then our fourth quarter will be destroyed,” he added.
Concepcion said that pooled testing is one of the ways to help the “very foundation of the economy” the small and micro entrepreneurs (MSMEs) to keep operating amid threats of the coronavirus.
“[What we are looking for is] to really — not only saving lives, but [also]… to save the jobs and the livelihood of our people, because if you don’t save the jobs and livelihoods of our people, then of course more lives will be affected,” he said.
“They will not be able to afford medicine. They will not be able to afford the proper nutrition that will [make their] immunity strong and of course, they will be infected with the infection and it just surmounts. So the approach really should be saving all,” he added.
With the pooled testing that will cost cheaper, be able to test more people, and yield faster results, Concepcion said local government units (LGUs) will be able to know their accurate number of infections, which will help businesses tide over the crisis.
“Whatever money we give to our MSMEs…if they’re not able to operate profitably, or if they’re not able to have people buying from them because people are scared to go out due to the level of infection, then consumer confidence would also be affected.”
Project ARK is putting their confidence in the LGUs, not only in implementing localized lockdowns, which could prevent bigger lockdowns, but also in encouraging businesses operating in their cities to participate in the pooled testing.
The LGUs may also take part in the initiative by training and hiring some of their residents as swabbers.
“And this is why our appeal to our friends and to the Cabinet is to calibrate it well. I think the strategy is already in place. It is just a matter of pinpointing…the people responsible, who will implement these strategies. And the goal is [also] localized lockdown,” he said.
Pooled or batch testing will allow the government to diagnose more people quickly, reducing time and supplies required.
Former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary and now Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin, in the same press conference, said that what’s good in pooled testing is its “drastically” reduced cost of testing.
From around P2,000 each for those being tested in the previous tests, Garin said, pooled testing will only cost some 350 per person.
“We are looking at the end of July as a target to finally come out with the costing. We are targeting P350 per person tested,” she said.
The testing will also prevent referral laboratories from overloading and will have faster turnaround time “because the PCR amplification per se is around two hours.”
“Hence, amplification of 94 samples in the current set up will mean amplification of 940 people/specimens ,” Garin explained.
Under the pooled testing technique, health authorities may combine samples from several people and test them together instead of running them individually. A negative test result will clear everyone in the group but a positive result requires all members to be individually tested.
Garin said that once approved by the DOH, they might finally implement the pooled testing in August. She said they halfway through their research and “are still doing some validation runs.”
“Hopefully, by the first week of August, we can start cascading it theoretically and go on full time implementation by the middle of August,” she said.