South Cotabato urges DOH to speed up approval of COVID-19 testing facility

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 May) – The provincial government of South Cotabato appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) to speed up the approval of its proposed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing facility in Koronadal City in the wake of the lifting of the community quarantine measures in the area on May 16.

Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said Tuesday the operationalization of the testing center will serve as safety net in case of the possible surge of COVID-19 cases once the province reopens its borders and remove all movement restrictions.

He said it was among the criteria earlier adopted by the provincial inter-agency task force (IATF) on COVID-19 for the normalization of economic activities and other related movements in the province.

The other considerations were the establishment of treatment and isolation facilities as well as the mainstreaming of a reliable contract-tracing system for COVID-19 cases.

The provincial government already opened last month a dedicated COVID-19 hospital or patient care center in Surallah town while its own contact tracing mobile application, dubbed South Cotabato Contact Tracing System, is now ready for initial rollout.

“We really need to complete the criteria to ensure that we can properly protect and take care of our people here in the province,” Tamayo said in a press conference.

The governor said they have been waiting in the last 45 days for the approval and accreditation of the testing center at the Dr. Arturo P. Pingoy Medical Center in Koronadal City.

He said the testing center has long been ready and they have complied with the necessary requirements but the DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine have not yet approved its accreditation.

The local government had forged a partnership with the private hospital for the conduct of COVID-19 tests in its biosafety level 2 laboratory.

The Polymerase Chain Reaction or PCR genexpert machine will be provided by the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO).

Tamayo said he does not oppose the lifting of the quarantine measures after May 15 but cited that the absence of a testing center and the limited COVID-19 test kits was not an ideal situation for the province.

As of Tuesday, he said the IPHO reported that less than 500 tests had been conducted in the province so far.

“Ideally, we should have tested at least 10,000 people by now out of our nearly one million population,” he said.

Comparing the situation to other areas, he said Cebu City, which has a population of over one million, already tested more than 10,000 people, with more than 1,500 turning out positive.

Tamayo said the low number of confirmed cases in the province and the rest of Region 12 or Soccsksargen, which have been declared as low-risk areas for COVID-19, can be attributed to the lack of testing in the area.

He said the IPHO has not taken any swab from suspect patients since last week due to the unavailability of swab kits.

The same problem was also faced by other provinces and cities in the region based on his consultations, Tamayo said.

“The reality is, we don’t have new COVID-19 cases because we’re not doing any tests,” he said.

Tamayo added that he will convene the province’s IATF in the next two days to decide on the next measures to take after the end of the general community quarantine on May 15. (MindaNews)