Want a COVID-19 test for your peace of mind? Be ready to shell out 6,500 pesos

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 July) – For your peace of mind, do you want to know if you have been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

If you fall under the priority categories, you can avail of the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test — for free — at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, the Davao Regional Medical Center in Tagum City and other government testing centers in Mindanao.

If you’re not within the priority group, you can avail of the RT-PCR test, dubbed the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, in a private laboratory.

In Davao City, your peace of mind will cost you 6,500 pesos and  results are available within 24 to 48 hours.

As Davao City marked its 100th day of community quarantine on Tuesday (23 June 2020), everything looked normal along San Pedro Street downtown except that the people are wearing face masks. Mindanews photo

COVID-19 testing is risk-based so individuals who want to get tested for free in government testing centers should fall within the priority groups.

Dr. Annabelle Yumang,  director of the Department of Health in the Davao region (DOH-Davao) told MindaNews that “all individuals who are at-risk of contracting COVID-19 infection shall be tested.”

Those at risk include “suspect cases or individuals with relevant history of travel and exposure or contact, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, and health care workers with possible exposure, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic,” she said.

According to Yumang, “indiscriminate RT-PCR testing” beyond close contacts of a confirmed COVID-l9 case is “not recommended but those who want to be tested can visit a privately owned licensed subnational laboratory.”

The DOH, she said,  has classified  groups of individuals at risk, arranged in order of greatest to lowest need for testing, from Subgroup A to Subgroup F.

Yumang added that due to global shortage of testing kits and other supplies, and limitation in local capacity for testing, “there is a need to rationalize available tests and prioritize subgroups A and B” but in view of the expansion of testing capacity and to ensure healthcare workforce safety, “subgroup C will be tested and health workers prioritized.”

She sent MindaNews a list of the subgroups.

a. Subgroup A: Patients or healthcare workers with severe/critical symptoms, relevant history of travel/contact

b. Subgroup B: Patients or healthcare workers with mild symptoms, relevant history of travel/contact, and considered vulnerable. Vulnerable populations include those elderly and with preexisting medical conditions that predispose them to severe presentation and complications of COVID-l9.

c. Subgroup C: Patients or healthcare workers with mild symptoms, relevant history of travel/contact.

d. Subgroup D: Patients or healthcare workers with no symptoms but relevant history of travel/contact

e. Subgroup E. Frontliners indirectly involved in health care provision in the response against COVlD-l9 which includes, but not limited to the following:

i. Personnel manning the Temporary Treatment and Quarantine Facilities (managed by local government unit and national)
ii. Personnel manning Quarantine Control Points, including those from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bureau of Fire Protection, and others;
iii. National/Regional/Local Risk Reduction and Management Teams;
iv. Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams and barangay officials providing barangay border control and performing COVID-l9-related tasks;
v. Personnel of Bureau of Corrections and Bureau of Jail Penology and Management;
vi. Personnel manning the One-Stop-Shop in the Management of the Returning Overseas Filipinos;
vii. Personnel serving at the COVID-19 swabbing center; and
viii.Social workers providing amelioration and relief assistance to communities and performing COVID-19-related tasks.

f. Subgroup F: Other vulnerable patients such as those with comorbidities, those who will undergo high-risk, elective surgical procedures, those living in confined spaces such as persons deprived of liberty or institutionalized persons, and others. These also include:

i. Pregnant patients who shall be tested during the peripartum period;
ii. Dialysis patients and patients who are immunocompromised, such as those who have HIV/AIDS, inherited diseases that affect the immune system, those in chemotherapy or radiotherapy, who shall be tested at the discretion. of the attending physician, following the existing guidelines of Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

The Davao One World Diagnostics, Inc., the lone private lab offering RT-PCR tests in the city, has three swabbing stations along JP Laurel Avenue, MacArthur Highway and the downtown area, close to  a private hospital. The test costs 6,500 pesos.

Since July 22, passengers arriving at the Davao City airport who do not have negative RT-PCR test results issued within 72 hours from departure at the airport of origin have to undergo mandatory RT-PCR testing but have to wait for the results – expected to come out at least 24 hours later – in the airport’s holding areas.

A Philippine Airlines plane taxis along the runway of the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City. File photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Earlier this week, City Tourism Officer Generose Tecson told MindaNews the 6,500 peso testing fee would be at the expense of the passenger but Mayor Sara Duterte announced in her radio program on July 22 that the city government will shoulder the cost.

The Davao One World Diagnostics, Inc. is conducting the testing at the airport, Tecson said.

Dr. Rachel Joy Pasion, DOH-Davao data management officer, said four more laboratories in the city will soon be able to conduct RT-PCR testing as their applications with the national government to be accredited as testing centers for COVID-19 are now on stage 3 of the five-stage process.

The four applicant laboratories are Davao Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, Davao Doctors Hospital, and GeneXpert Laboratory and Pop-up Laboratory of SPMC. (Carolyn O. Arguillas with reports from Antonio L. Colina IV  and Yas D. Ocampo / MindaNews)