43 RITM staff infected with coronavirus

MANILA, Philippines – Forty-three employees of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the scaling down of the country's main testing center for the virus. 

"Hindi naman po sila severely ill. 'Yung iba po mildly sick so naka quarantine lang po sila dito sa aming dormitory facility.'Yung iba po medyo serious ang symptoms, hindi naman po very serious, sa hospital sila naka admit," RITM Director Dr Celia Carlos said in an interview aired on CNN Philippines on Monday, April 20.

(They are not severely ill. Some of them are mildly sick so they are under quarantine in a dormitory facility here. Some of them have slighty serious symptoms, but not very serious, so they were admitted in a hospital.)

Carlos said they are not sure if the employees got infected within the RITM premises or from their communities since they also engaged in other activities outside work.

On Saturday, April 18, Dr Tony Leachon, adviser of the government task force against coronavirus, posted the RITM advisory on his Facebook account, saying that the RITM has scaled down its operations "in consideration of the safety of its staff responding to COVID-19 Public Health Emergency beginning April 16, 2020 until April 24, 2020."

The advisory added the RITM would only process specimens from Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Pasay City beginning April 17.

"To prevent delays in testing and releasing results, RITM shall be referring currently received specimens to activated subnational laboratories and COVID-19 partner laboratories," the advisory said. 

To date, the Philippines has 17 coronavirus testing centers nationwide. (READ: Where are testing centers for coronavirus in PH?)

“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," Carlos said in a statement sent to media Monday night.

As a result of its reduced manpower, approximately 5,000 specimens are pending COVID-19 confirmation in RITM laboratories. The RITM said that it has coordinated with different government agencies to address the issue. 

To assist the RITM through this situation, the Department of Health (DOH) has prescribed a temporary zoning system for the referral of specimens to the 16 accredited testing centers. 

Before the scaling down, Carlos said the RITM could process 1,500 to 2,000 tests per day. She, however, could not give a definite number regarding how many samples the facility can process given the slowdown. 

"Ang priority po muna ay samples ng mga employees. Kapag natapos po namin ito ay saka po kami mag po-process ng ibang samples," Carlos said.

(Our priority for now are the samples of our employees. When we are done with them, we can process other samples.)

The RITM said that it is optimistic that the backlogs will be cleared out by the end of the month.

The DOH on Sunday, April 19, said the RITM slowdown may impact the tallying of the country's coronavirus cases in the coming days.

A total of 766 health workers have been infected with the coronavirus, with 339 being doctors and 242 being nurses. At least 22 health workers have died of the coronavirus.

As of Monday, the Philippines registered 6,459 cases of coronavirus, with 418 deaths and 16 recoveries.  – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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