Bicol’s 2 Covid-19 test labs now operational

LEGAZPI CITY --- The Bicol region has now two testing laboratories for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) following the restoration and resumption of operation of the Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (BRDRL) in Legazpi City and the newly opened facility in the Bicol Medical Center (BMC) in Naga City, the Department of Health said.

The Bicol Medical Center (BMC) in Naga City started the Covid-19 testing laboratory on Thursday, May 28 via Rapid PCR Testing or GeneXpert testing after receiving its license to operate from the DOH’s Health Facility and Services Regulatory Bureau (HFSRB) on May 27, 2020.

Testing at the BMC will be done Tuesday to Sunday from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM including holidays. Monday is scheduled for decontamination of the facility.

The cut-off time for receiving specimens from Camarines Sur including Naga City is at 9:00 AM while from Camarines Norte is at 12:00 noon. Samples received beyond cut-off time will be processed the following day. The BMC received its certification from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) after undergoing proficiency and competency assessment, the DOH Bicol reported.

According to DOH Bicol, the BMC testing laboratory will cater to the provinces of Camarines Sur including Naga City and Camarines Norte.

But due to limited capacity, only 40 samples can be tested per day during the laboratory’s 12-hour daily operation using the 4-placer GeneXpert Testing Machine.

Camarines Sur and Naga City are allotted 15 slots each, while Camarines Norte is allotted 10 slots. The province and city can send more than their allocated slots but these will be processed on the following day.

Local government units’ (LGUs) health units are advised to coordinate with the BMC’s Hospital Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (HESU) and Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU) before sending their samples to the BMC laboratory.

To recall, the BRDRL in Legazpi City has been recognized by the DOH as one of the nine training providers for Hands-on PCR testing in the country per Department Circular No. 2020-0205 dated May 7, 2020.

“The BRDRL shall follow the program of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) as a training provider. The certificate of training that will be issued by BRDRL shall be accepted as compliance to the DOH licensing requirements,” Dr. Ernie V. Vera, DOH Bicol direcor said.

As this developed, the BRDRL resumed its operation on May 26 for Covid-19 testing via Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) after repair of the exhaust duct, which was damaged by Typhoon Ambo was completed.

Meanwhile, the two units of new RT-PCR machines donated by the Legazpi City government and a private donor have also been calibrated and installed by the supplier.

However, the use of these machines cannot be maximized pending the arrival of the automated extracting machine bought by the Legazpi City government.

As of now, the BRDRL does manual extraction, which takes about three to four hours for a batch of 30 to 40 samples on a two-shift duty. Two teams had been organized to do at least 90 to 100 tests per day from 30-50 tests per day done at the start of BRDRL Covid-19 testing.

These facilities will increase the testing capacity of the Bicol region which is important in isolating Covid-19 suspects to prevent the further spread of the disease.