COVID-19 test results from RITM out in 5 to 7 days, but not for long, DOH says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — Even with a strict protocol on novel coronavirus testing in the Philippines, many patients are still not getting their test results on time.

But this may no longer be a problem soon, the Department of Health assured Friday.

“Sa ngayon sa Research Institute for Tropical Medicine tumatagal po tayo ng lima hanggang pitong araw dahil nga po sa nangyaring na mga backlog,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire during the televised briefing, explaining how long should patients wait before their results come back.

[Translation: As of now, at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, it is taking them five to seven days because of the backlog.]

Vergeire also said the RITM made a commitment to clear their backlog of test results “in two to three days.” This means the turnaround time will be one to two days again by Sunday or Monday next week -- similar to when there was no backlog yet.

The RITM has said that patients could expect to know if they tested positive 24 to 48 hours after their nasal and throat swabs were collected. This is the “standard processing time” for all the government laboratories, Vergeire said.

Vergeire earlier noted the Philippine health care system was being “challenged” in terms of testing capacity due to the lack of kits and laboratories. But last week, it expanded its testing efforts with the arrival of imported detection kits donated by other countries.

READ: How COVID-19 testing is conducted in the PH

The RITM earlier served as the only confirmatory testing laboratory for COVID-19 in the Philippines.

Now it is joined by Vicente Sotto Memorial Center in Cebu City, Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City and Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City.

According to revised guidelines issued by DOH last week, only those with severe symptoms of the viral disease, such as difficulty in breathing, prolonged cough and fever will be tested.

Elderly people, women with high risk pregnancy and immunocompromised persons or those with weakened immune system will also be tested even if they show only mild symptoms. That's because they are groups that are at higher risk of infection or have a higher percentage of fatalities.

Prior to these protocols, only people who have been exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or have recently visited countries with cases of local transmission were tested.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque previously said the DOH is studying whether or not they could allow patients with mild symptoms to get tested.

Nationwide, the illness has infected 707 people with 45 deaths. At least nine of the COVID-19 fatalities were frontline doctors.