Gov't running out of med techs, lab personnel as more testing centers open

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 31) – The government is facing a new problem now as it seeks to ramp up COVID-19 testing: the lack of medical personnel.

"Ang mga laboratory po natin ay nauubusan ng mga med techs... Kahit na po ang isang lab ay may automated machines, kailangan pa rin po ng ating mga med techs natin na trabahuhin ang pagte-test ng mga specimen ng mga kababayan natin," testing czar and national COVID-19 task force deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon told CNN Philippines' The Source Friday.

[Translation: Our laboratories are lacking med techs... Even if a lab has automated machines, we need med techs to process the specimens for the testing of our fellowmen.]

Dizon earlier said he wants 2 million Filipinos tested by the end of August, up from nearly 1.5 million tested this July. There are now 94 laboratories in the country, with daily testing capacity at 35,000.

However, the additional infrastructure still needs to be manned by health workers, which have been on short supply as the country enters its fifth month of battling the coronavirus. The country also needs more nurses and swabbers, Dizon said, especially as some medical frontliners either fall sick or become overworked.

"Kailangan po ng DOH at ng iba pang mga ahensya na aggressively mag-recruit pa sa ating mga kababayan ng mga medical professionals [DOH and other agencies must aggressively recruit more medical professionals]," the testing czar added, noting that even medicine students and graduates waiting to pass the board exam should be allowed to step up and serve. He said proper compensation can be worked out.

Dizon compared the COVID-19 battle to an armed conflict, where he likens doctors-in-training to military reserve personnel.

RELATED: Security guards, sales clerk among new targets for COVID-19 testing

The Philippines currently has 89,374 confirmed cases, with more than 38,000 recoveries tallied on Thursday as it implemented a new rule that no longer requires a negative swab test to declare a patient as fully recovered. This came alongside 3,594 new confirmed cases in one go, which he said appears alarming.

He said the return of late cases reported meant it took a while for the Department of Health to validate cases. He added that test results are released after 48 hours.

However, Dizon said the spike in infections is expected and is a "direct consequence" of opening up the economy. Filipinos must observe strict health standards, such as the wearing of face masks, washing of hands, and social distancing at all times to prevent contagion.

The official also clarified details on pooled testing, saying that there's a specific group of people who can be tested together. He added that people need to come from a certain profile, such as similar travel history or place of interaction.

This type of testing is expected to significantly boost testing capacity, as samples from 10 or even 20 people can be combined in one swab test kit.