Duterte orders DOH probe into 'false positive' COVID-19 results in Red Cross labs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — An investigation is underway after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Department of Health to look into reports that COVID-19 tests conducted at the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) produced inaccurate results.

The President on Monday accused PRC and its chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, of botching reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results, saying he had heard of many false positive cases recorded in the humanitarian organization's testing laboratories.

Duterte, who has launched an all-out offensive against Gordon and PRC for the lawmaker's investigations into his administration's questionable pandemic spending, claimed that 44 out of 49 hospital personnel who tested positive in their first RT-PCR test taken at PRC's Subic laboratory, yielded negative results when they took the same test in other laboratories.

He also claimed that 187 out of 213 personnel of the Presidential Security Group and some Department of Finance workers tested positive after taking the RT-PCR test at a PRC laboratory, but came out with negative results in their next confirmatory tests taken in other laboratories after 24 hours.

Although RT-PCR tests are deemed as the "gold standard," local and international experts say no test is 100% accurate. A study published in The Lancet Microbe showed an infected person's viral load is at the highest five days since the onset of symptoms. It generally goes down as time passes, eventually making it undetectable in RT-PCR tests.

The President asked the DOH to investigate the alleged mishandling of COVID-19 tests made in PRC facilities.

"You could be putting more people at risk," he told PRC. "You could be falsely adding to the total positive cases per day of this country."

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire agreed that timing is crucial.

"It is possible for test results from the same case collected at two different time points to vary, potentially due to the timing of specimen collection (depending on the clinical course of infection) and other possible sources of variation in the pre-analytical, analytical and post-analytical phases," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"All tests have to be interpreted using the epidemiological and clinical situation of the patient," Vergeire added.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said other testing laboratories may also be looked into as an "off shoot" of Duterte's order to ensure the accuracy of all test results.