Marikina's COVID-19 testing center rejected for now, must be moved to safer location — DOH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 26) — The Department of Health has disapproved the Marikina COVID-19 testing center, saying it did not pass space and biosafety standards.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press briefing on Thursday that the proposed testing center, which is on the sixth floor of the City Health Office, should be set up in a different location to comply with guidelines on biosafety.

“Nasa sixth floor ang laboratoryo, kaya iminungkahi ng DOH na gamitin ang laboratoryo ng Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center o mag-set up sa ibang lokasyon,” Duque said.

[Translation: The laboratory is on the sixth floor, so the DOH suggested that they use instead the laboratory at Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center or set up one at a different location.]

The Health Department wrote the Marikina city government, telling them that this recommendation is made to "minimize cross-infection," and to observe less foot traffic for the protection of staff and Marikina citizens.

Marikina City Mayor Marcy Teodoro lamented this decision, saying that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine — an approved COVID-19 testing facility — is also a co-shared facility.

“Nagtataka kami kung bakit ang RITM ay isang co-shared facility na nandun ang admin office at may ospital pa samantalang kami ay hindi kami pinayagang mag-operate ng aming testing laboratory,” he said.

[Translation: We don't understand why the RITM is a co-shared facility that has its administrative offices alongside a hospital, but our testing laboratory is not allowed to operate.]

He said the city government dedicated the entire sixth floor to the testing facility and that all offices on the said floor have been relocated to ensure biohazard safety.

“Yung City Health Office ay nagbigay tayo ng isang exclusive elevator doon, isang buong palapag ay nakalaan sa laboratoryo natin sa Marikina City COVID testing center,” he said.

[Translation: The City Health Office has an elevator for its exclusive use there, one entire floor is alloted for our Marikina City laboratory as a COVID-19 testing center.]

The local government called the DOH decision “a denial to the Filipino people access for COVID-19 testing especially those in the marginalized sector, especially to the poor people.”

“Given the condition of the health crisis in the country, the DOH should set different protocol for the establishment of COVID-19 centers,” it said in a press statement.

Teodoro, however, said that they will comply with the DOH recommendation if that is the way for Filipino people to be given additional access to COVID-19 tests.

Meanwhile, the RITM in a press release called on LGUs and other private laboratories intending to establish their own COVID-19 testing centers to “exercise the utmost diligence in complying with all laboratory standards.”

It said it welcomes all parties that are providing the public with greater access to COVID-19 testing. But it is important that practices and protocols recommended by the World Health Organization are observed, the RITM said.

“Not all laboratories can be COVID-19 testing centers,” RITM Director Celia Carlos said.

“Laboratories handling COVID-19 samples must be capable of performing molecular diagnostics in terms of infrastructure, personnel, apparatus, and quality assurance,” the research institute wrote.

It added that “inadequacy in any of these prerequisites might lead to inaccurate results, possible infection of laboratory personnel, and the contamination of collected samples and the immediate testing environment.”

According to DOH, the RITM will assist the city government in setting up a facility that adheres to biosafety guidelines.

“We will work with them and help them until they can attain the standards,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also said.