Covid-19 mass testing in Subic Freeport begins early May

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — A mass testing program to detect new coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections here is expected to begin early next month.
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has partnered with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) for the coronavirus mass testing.

SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said the PRC is putting up a laboratory at the Naval Magazine area in this Freeport and expects to receive testing equipment by April 29 and accreditation by the Department of Health (DOH) thereafter.

“Under this schedule we expect to begin mass testing here in the first week of May at the earliest,” Eisma said.

On Sunday, Eisma and PRC Secretary General Elizabeth Zaballa inspected the PRC Molecular Laboratory at the Naval Magazine area here, a project approved by PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon at the behest of the SBMA chief.

According to Zaballa, the equipment for the state of the art laboratory will include an automated RNA extraction machine that can run 90 samples per hour, as well as two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines that can each process 1,000 samples a day for a daily turnout of 2,000 tests.

Zaballa said the Red Cross is only using the PCR testing method because it is more reliable and accurate.

She added that the DOH’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM, the government’s lead agency in the prevention and control of infectious diseases, would have to inspect the facility prior to operation.

Eisma said the mass testing program will be open to the public, but suspected and probable cases (previously known respectively as persons under monitoring, or PUMs, and persons under investigation, or PUIs) will be the priority.

“Frontline workers in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, SBMA employees, as well as Freeport residents will also be prioritized, but we will also reach out to local government units (LGUs) in the neighboring communities of Olongapo City, Zambales and Bataan so that their constituents can benefit from the program,” she added.

Eisma also pointed out that the SBMA is working out a scheme with the PRC so that the public can also use the Red Cross hotline 1158 in making appointments for testing.

To facilitate the mass testing program, the SBMA will put up swabbing centers at Freeport main gate area for the collection of samples for testing.

“Once the samples are collected, these will be validated and sent to the Red Cross laboratory for testing, and the results could be obtained in about two days,” Eisma said.

The SBMA pushed for the mass testing program the other week as the call for mass testing resounded widely.

Eisma said earlier that mass testing would provide “a good reading of the prevalence of the outbreak with the end-view of safely lifting the ECQ in order to get the Subic businesses running again.”

“If we don’t undertake mass-testing, we’d be fighting Covid-19 blindly. We have to get a better grasp of the situation so that we can act accordingly,” Eisma added.

The SBMA has been initiating solutions to protect the local community from the virus threat. Aside from the mass testing program, the Subic agency also established two care and isolation facilities at the Subic Gym and the former Leciel Hotel for use in case of a surge in Covid-19 cases.

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