02416: The Testing Conundrum

Metro Manila Community Quarantine - Day 10

There are two main constraints to continued efforts to test for COVID-19, as far as I can understand things. There's the actual test kits, which is a distinct materials constraint and we've been struggling with having sufficient kits throughout this crisis. And then there's the actual testing facilities that will use these kits that need to meet certain levels of safety and security and have the right equipment to process samples along with the expertise to run these tests.

The WHO has constantly been stressing the importance of early detection as part of events to prevent the spread of the disease. And in the early battle against this disease, the constraints above have limited our ability to test people en masse and so the DOH has been using different algorithms to help healthcare professionals decide whether or not one should be tested.

Public perception of the evenness of how these testing algorithms are being implemented hasn't been all that great with fears that only select people were getting tested and potential VIPs (e.g. politicians and their families) were getting tested despite not meeting the criteria of the aforementioned algorithms. This has helped stir up people to call for mass testing to fight the disease with a focus on vulnerable populations most at risk of the disease.

It's not entirely clear to me where we stand now in terms of raw testing capability. We don't have good visibility as to which labs have been certified safe and allowed to help with testing, how many samples are still in the testing backlog and how many people potentially meet testing criteria but aren't getting tested. In other words, we don't know how bad the problem is but we do feel not enough testing is done and thus the clamor for mass testing has become the battle cry on social media.

It's a bit of a mess.

More than whether or not more tests can be done, maybe our government needs to work on how it communicates information related to testing efforts and challenges to help the public better understand what's going on. This is especially true as we seem to be getting a lot of test kit donations but we don't know which labs are now helping with the testing effort.

So many questions.