Mass rapid diagnostic testing in San Jose, Camarines Sur; inspired by “Project Ark” philosophy to fight COVID-19


By Joey Natividad

A fourth -class town in Camarines Sur Province has adopted a policy of implementing rapid diagnostic testing on residents when its first case of Covid19 was reported by Health authorities on May 30, 2020.

As this happened, San Jose in Camarines Sur Province may be recognized as the only town in the country which has conducted mass rapid testing, while other implementers are all cities, Metro-Manila cities and Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-lapu cities.

San Jose Mayor Dr. Marco P. Chavez MD has responded to private sector campaigns in Metro-Manila, through Project ARK initiative, to conduct rapid diagnostic testing in places of work and in communities and barangay. Project ARK stands for Antibody Rapid test Kit.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, who leads Project ARK that was launched April 24, has been promoting rapid diagnostic testing as the first level in the fight against Covid19, which is “invisible.” The second level is through RT-PCR testing.

Secretary Concepcion said, over a recent interview with CNN Philippines, “it is better to test than never to test at all.”

Over media interviews, Secretary Concepcion has been saying, to the effect, that by rapid diagnostic testing, the “invisible enemy” will become “visible”.

“We are at war with an invisible enemy. That is why the key is visibility. We have to test, test, test! Mass testing is the key to reopening our economy and reinstating public confidence,” Secretary Concepcion explained Project ARK philosophy .

Under this “visibility”, meaning “identification of potential, suspected Covid-infected persons” by rapid diagnostic testing will enable medical frontliners to bring these persons for RT-PCR testing, the gold standard to fight Covid19.

“We need both rapid testing and RT-PCR testing to make everything more efficient, and to give us a better view of the situation,” Concepcion said, in a CNN Philippines interview.

Secretary Concepcion also said more than 300 private companies have pooled their contributions to acquire Rapid Test Kits {RTKs} for mass rapid diagnostic testing.

During the hard lockdown of Sampaloc in Manila for two days, Project ARK had provided RTKs for mass rapid testing.

In San Jose town, within a span of six days, from June 1 to June 6, about 502 persons were given rapid diagnostic testing in order to fast track the identification of persons who had come in contact with the Covid positive patient.

San Jose Mayor Dr. Chavez, focusing on rapid diagnostic testing, facilitated the systematic conduct of contact-tracing and monitoring persons and areas tagged as “under risk”.

On the first day of the reported Covid occurrence, Mayor Dr. Chavez, also a doctor, switched his executive attire for a PPE, then personally extracted blood samples of persons who had contact with the Covid19 patient.

There were no available medical personnel that day when the entire staff of the Rural Health Unit, including the municipal doctor, were all quarantined – a protocol to be followed as they shared office with the Covid positive person, a woman health worker.

Mass rapid testing had been conducted on persons identified in contact-tracing, family members, neighbors in the barangay, municipal employees, police personnel, checkpoint frontliners, health workers, and new arrivals from Metro-Manila who had been stranded and those who lost their jobs during the lockdown.

As of Sunday, June 7, all persons rapid-tested under contact-tracing are found negative, but they have to finish the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

People coming home from Metro-Manila were rapid-tested. 2 persons are found “IgG positive”, meaning they were recovering from Covid19 but have developed immunity, non-contagious, but still they were sent for quarantine.

One person was found “IgM positive”, meaning a suspect for Covid19, he was scheduled for RT-PCR test and under quarantine.

Mayor Dr Chavez believes in Project ARK’s rapid testing philosophy. Rapid testing can easily identify and segregate from the many, potential Covid carriers, infected persons who must undergo RT-PCR test.

With rapid testing, people in the town will be assured of their well-being, and aware of the health situation in their barangay, casting away fear borne from ignorance, false news, rumours, and speculations about Covid19 spread.

Mayor Dr. Chavez, Vice-Mayor Beyong Panuelos, and Municipal Councilors Marsan Durante, Honey Credo, Ronilo Milante, Daniel Pervera, Gilmarie Pacamarra, submitted themselves for rapid diagnostic testing.

Three Councilors, Bembot Dizon, Audie Concina, and Domingo Tam Jr., doubting the effectiveness of rapid diagnostic tests, refused to be tested.

Rewinding back, Secretary Concepcion through Project ARK sent 500 Rapid Test Kits {RTKs} and 3000 face masks, while Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso also sent 2000 RTKs after Mayor Dr. Chavez asked help when the first case of Covid occurred.

Mayor Isko’s chief of staff Cesar B. Chavez, sourcing from friends, sent 1000 sets of PPEs.

As of this writing, Mayor Dr. Chavez is still waiting for developments from the RT-PCR test on the infected health worker. His task force is still involved in contact-tracing, leaving no stone unturned.

Frontliners are keeping an eye on daily arrivals, caused by out-migration from Metro-Manila since June 1, when travel restrictions are being relaxed gradually as provinces are scaling down to modified general community quarantine.


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