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Typhoon-damaged Covid-19 testing lab in Bicol resumes operation

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LEGAZPI CITY – Testing at the Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (BRDRL) for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) resumed on Tuesday after it stopped last May 16 when Typhoon “Ambo” (Vongfong) damaged the exhaust duct at the roof of the facility.

Dr. Ernie Vera, DOH-Center for Health Development (CHD)-Bicol regional director, in an interview on Tuesday, said the damaged duct has been fixed, so the newly collected swab specimens would no longer be sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and will be processed here through Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR).

“The exhaust duct maintains the negative pressure of the biosafety cabinet used for the inactivation and extraction of the samples collected prior to testing at the RT-PCR machine. The negative pressure ensures that laboratory personnel working on live viruses are protected from infection,” he said.

Vera said prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the BRDRL had been using the exhaust duct since 2013 for its testing activities for other infectious diseases.

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

Vera said, however, that the use of the machines cannot be maximized pending the arrival of the automated extracting machine bought by Legazpi.

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 compared to 30-50 tests per day done at the start of BRDRL Covid-19 testing,” Vera said.

The GeneXpert laboratory at the Bicol Medical Center in Naga City is likewise completing the documentary requirements for the issuance of its license to operate.

“These testing 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,” Vera said. (PNA)