MUNTINLUPA CITY—As forty-three (43) of its workforce already confirmed positive for COVID-19, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) has scaled down its laboratory operations to give way to a thorough personnel testing and decontamination of its facilities.
“Only RITM laboratories are affected by this temporary slowdown, our hospital operations shall remain in full swing. Our primary concern right now is employee welfare. The strength of the RITM family lies in each and every one of its members working together in perfect cohesion, hence, we will only be able to provide the best possible care and service if the safety of our people is assured. We have been at the frontlines since January, it’s high time we look out for our own,” Director Celia Carlos said.
The scale down is projected to last until the 24th of April to facilitate decontamination activities in all buildings, and the checkup and testing of all RITM personnel. To assist the Institute through this situation, the Department of Health (DOH) has prescribed a temporary zoning system for the referral of specimens to the 16 newly-accredited COVID-19 testing centers. Nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs from Muntinlupa and nearby cities such as Parañaque, Las Piñas and Pasay, however, shall still be accommodated by RITM.
“Prior to this scale down, we were still trying to maintain our daily testing target of 1,500 specimens. Our capacity was impaired when some personnel got infected; this has caused an uproar that severely disrupted our established workflows. With the decreased number of available staff and the large volume of specimens received by RITM before today, the turnaround time for our testing has been prolonged to more than five days,” she added.
As a result of its reduced manpower, approximately 5,000 specimens are pending COVID-19 confirmation in RITM laboratories. To address this, the Institute has partnered with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Philippine Red Cross for additional RT-PCR machines. Likewise, RITM has opened the hiring of more medical technologists, encoders, and administrative staff to supplement laboratory personnel. The National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory (NTRL) has also been activated to accommodate COVID-19 testing. Through the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO), RITM is also set to receive an automated PCR machine and is set to initiate use of its GeneXpert Instrument System that can minimize the testing time to 45 minutes per sample.
With the announced scale down and a reduced number of specimens to be shipped to the Institute over the next days, RITM is optimistic that the backlogs will be cleared out by the end of the month. “We understand that this is a cause for concern, but the number of positive cases among our personnel will continue to rise if we approach the issue in a business-as-usual manner. We know that there are many who rely on the services of RITM as a National Reference Laboratory and tertiary hospital specializing in emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, but we promise that this laboratory slowdown is temporary. We promise that we will come out of this challenge 100% ready and committed to continuously fulfill our mandate to serve the Filipino nation for the duration of this outbreak response,” Carlos concluded.
The index patient in RITM is an encoder who contracted the virus from his community. Through an internal contact tracing activity, the high-risk individuals have been identified and were the first to receive necessary interventions. As of today, 790 of the Institute’s entire workforce have already been swabbed and are awaiting their COVID-19 results.