Red Cross to roll out saliva test today
The initial rollout of the cheaper, faster and less invasive mode of COVID-19 testing will be limited to the PRC’s laboratory at its headquarters in Mandaluyong City and its molecular laboratory in Manila’s Port Area, according to PRC biomolecular laboratories chief Dr. Paulyn Ubial.
Philippine Red Cross

Red Cross to roll out saliva test today

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) will begin COVID-19 saliva testing at its molecular laboratories in Metro Manila today after getting the nod from a government laboratory experts’ panel and the Department of Health (DOH).

The initial rollout of the cheaper, faster and less invasive mode of COVID-19 testing will be limited to the PRC’s laboratory at its headquarters in Mandaluyong City and its molecular laboratory in Manila’s Port Area, according to PRC biomolecular laboratories chief Dr. Paulyn Ubial.

While the Red Cross has been training other laboratories in Metro Manila, PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said all molecular laboratories of the Red Cross in the country can use saliva tests by Feb. 5.

“We will bring this to the provinces. By Feb. 5, the whole country will have been using (this mode). All areas will have saliva testing,” he told Teleradyo.

The PRC presented last Wednesday before the panel of experts at the DOH the result of their pilot test of 1,080 saliva samples and was announced for approval over the weekend.

Ubial said that of the samples, about 16 have tested positive for COVID-19. The tests, she added, yielded a 98.11-percent accuracy compared with the saliva pilot test of the University of Illinois which yielded a 99.99-percent accuracy.

The former health secretary said the discrepancy is attributable to the sample size of the university, which tested 1.1 million students and faculty.

“As the number of those being tested rises, the concordance or accuracy rate also rises,” she explained.

Gordon said once saliva tests are available nationwide, schools can resume their face-to-face classes as students can get saliva tests once or twice a week due to its cheaper cost and faster processing time. He added that even factory workers and public utility drivers could be assured of their safety with regular saliva tests.

“Once schools can do saliva tests, they can go to school because at least once a week or twice a week, kids can get saliva tests and they can go to school,” the senator said.

“Even factory workers, (PUV) drivers can get that as often as they want. Regular testing should be part of the new normal,” he added.

The PRC is also waiting for the DOH to approve the saliva tests in airports, as done by several countries like Japan and Singapore, according to Gordon.

In saliva tests, persons will spit inside a sterile 1-milliliter vial that would be sealed and documented for results. Gordon said it would cost P2,000 or less.

Filipinos who want to get saliva tests need to book an appointment using the link book.redcross1158.com.

The PRC advised that those who want to avail themselves of the test not to smoke, eat, drink and gargle 30 minutes before their appointment.

The initial tests the PRC conducted last October yielded a 95-percent concordance rate with the gold standard reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests, according to Ubial. This means that when patients tested positive or negative in RT-PCR tests, the same results came out in saliva tests.

Gordon described the new method as a “game-changer,” and noted how it could serve as a substitute to swab tests.

Swab tests, however, would remain the default testing method on overseas Filipino workers, despite the use of saliva tests in airports in several countries, he said.

The PRC said it still offers swab tests for RT-PCR processing if preferred by a patient.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III commended the PRC “for finishing the pilot implementation in a short period of time and complying with the initial recommendations provided by the (DOH).”

The PRC sought the approval of the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the public use of the saliva test.

Last Jan. 13, the PRC pilot launched 1,000 tested samples for full review of frontliners and the media.

Compared with administering the regular RT-PCR, saliva testing is non-invasive and less-stringent with the specimen collector no longer required to wear full personal protective equipment or PPE.

Saliva testing is also cheaper since it uses less equipment and reagents. The sample processing time runs for only three to four hours.

1,949 new cases

The total number of confirmed COVID cases nationwide yesterday jumped to 513,619 with the addition of 1,949 new cases, according to the DOH.

Of the latest figure, 92.6 percent or 475,612 have already recuperated from the disease, including 7,729 new recoveries.

Active cases stood at 27,765, which account for 5.4 percent of the total cases. Bulk or 92.3 percent of the active cases are mild and asymptomatic.

Davao City posted the biggest number of new cases with 99, followed by Quezon City 98 and Cavite with 74.

Baguio City ranked fourth with 73 new cases followed by Leyte with 63.

COVID-related deaths rose to 10,242 with the listing of 53 more fatalities. The DOH said mortalities represent 1.99 percent of total cases.

Five laboratories failed to submit their data to the COVID Data Repository System.

Minimum health protocols

Minimum health protocols remained necessary to be complied with to prevent virus transmission even when COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, according to the DOH.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said even those who would be vaccinated are required to observe minimum health standards to protect themselves from the virus.

“We would like to remind the public (that) not because you had been vaccinated already, you will no longer comply with minimum public health standards,” Vergeire said at a briefing last week.

She noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) and health experts from other countries have recommended that even those vaccinated must wear mask and face shield as well as observe physical distancing.

“Why, because there is still no sufficient evidence that the vaccine can block transmission,” she said.

Based on efficacy studies done for various COVID-19 vaccines, Vergeire said they were only proven to reduce chances of having full-blown clinical illness, hospitalization and death from COVID.

“Another reason is that we still do not know how long the immunity that the vaccine can provide. That’s why it is still best to observe minimum health standards,” she added.

Compliance with minimum health standards, according to the DOH official, has been proven to be the best way to avoid the virus. – Neil Jayson Servallos

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