Ilocos Norte's COVID-19 testing lab underway


May. 12, 2020 ...

Ilocos Norte is set to open a COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC) in Batac City, Governor Matthew Manotoc declared in his latest media briefing.

MMMH&MC has been at the forefront in the management of probable, suspect, confirmed cases in the province since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it has the structure for a molecular biology laboratory, the medical institution is only capable of offering GeneXpert-TB and HIV viral load tests due to limited equipment.

To date, Region I has no existing molecular diagnostic laboratory to cater to COVID-19 testing. MMMH&MC has been sending samples for molecular testing to Baguio General Hospital (BGH), the nearest designated sub-national reference laboratory to Ilocos Norte.

"Testing is probably the most important. It's a three-pronged approach. First, we control the borders. Second, isolate those who may be potential candidates. Finally, mass testing," Gov. Marcos Manotoc explained.

The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte through Gov. Marcos Manotoc had allotted a budget amounting to almost P 5 Million for the procurement of molecular biology laboratory equipment.

The laboratory's Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) set up is composed of the following: an RT PCR machine, a refrigerated clinical centrifuge, a vortex mixer, a UV-Vis spectrophotometer, a reagent refrigerator, a scientific ultralow freezer, a rotary dry block heater, and an ice block incubator.

"Our rapid test kits arrived on May 1 and our PCR machine was delivered on May 6. After that there is still a process of operationalizing the machine," Gov. Marcos Manotoc said.

Rapid test kits can process swab samples in 15 minutes. Still, DOH protocols require that samples should be tested using a more accurate method to validate results.

"The paramount requirement [of mass testing] would be our borders will be very secured and our quarantine facilities are also perfect. We will use our rapid test kits on those who are quarantining and also our frontliners," he elaborated.  

Meanwhile, to improve its COVID-19 testing capacity, PGIN has requested the DOH-Region I to inspect and accredit its Gene Expert Facilities located at Governor Roque B. Ablan Sr. Memorial Hospital, Dingras District Hospital, Batac City Health Office, and Bacarra Health Unit.

Also up for accreditation is the DPWH District I as a COVID-19 testing center.

There were 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province and both patients have recovered. In more than a month now, Ilocos Norte has not recorded any additional confirmed cases.