Mayor defends use of ‘unreliable’ COVID-19 rapid testing kits

(Photo by Claudio Rampinini via Alamy Stock Photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas on Wednesday defended the city government’s use of rapid antibody test kits to detect coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases amid reports of its unreliability.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Treñas said that the use of rapid antibody test kits is essential for the city to quickly determine its actions in taking care of its residents.

He added that it would take too long to wait for results from Western Visayas Medical Center (WVMC) in Mandurriao, which takes six to eight days.

WVMC uses the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technique in determining COVID-19 cases.

The rapid test kits rely on the presence or absence of antibodies in a suspected patient.

“The rapid test kits provide immediate results, and when there is [an] immediate result then we can act right away. What did the [Department of Health] say? You identify, you isolate, and do contact tracing. If we wait for six to seven days [for results from WVMC], I would rather risk making mistakes, of having false positive or false negative [results] instead of just waiting. If testing speeds up, then we wouldn’t have to resort to rapid testing. But what I’m also saying is, if for the government, rapid test kits cannot be used, then why would they buy 900,000 units? So I think there is some value to it,” Treñas said.

The mayor said that rapid tests were conducted using kits donated by MORE Power and Davao City First District Rep. Paolo Duterte.

He also announced that city government personnel and volunteers manning the distribution of relief goods at Jaro Gym will undergo rapid tests today, April 23.

Another round of rapid tests will be scheduled for Philippine National Police and Philippine Army personnel and medical frontliners in the city.



The WVMC is the only COVID-19 testing facility in the region which is fully accredited by the DOH. It administers tests using the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) kits.

In using RT-PCR test kits, swabs are inserted into the patients’ nostrils and throats to collect sample specimen to be tested using an RT-PCR testing machine.

Results from these tests, which have been found to be the most reliable in detecting COVID-19, come out after an average of 72 hours, or three days at minimum.

Rapid test kits, on the other hand, rely on blood extracted from patients to detect the presence of antibodies, which may have been caused by viral infection.

Results from rapid tests come out in as fast as 30 minutes.

The use of rapid test kits has been found to be unreliable even in the region, after a patient from La Castellana in Negros Occidental initially yielded negative results using the antibody test.

The 42-year-old male, labelled as WV Patient No. 53, was reported to have been exposed to WV Patients Nos. 37 and 38, a couple from Pavia, Iloilo.

DOH Center for Health Development 6 spokesperson Dr. Renilyn Reyes on Tuesday clarified that the health department only uses the rapid antibody testing as an adjunct tool and it cannot stand alone to diagnose COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released guidelines on the use of rapid antibody test kits on April 18, 2020.



Treñas said that the city will continue testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients using its stock despite the DOH’s requirements.

“The DOH has requirements it needs to follow. They actually require the presence of symptoms, and asymptomatic persons wouldn’t be tested. If we follow these requirements, it will be difficult for our Ilonggos to return. One of the things we talked about is that, as long as we have available testing, we will do it. If they can’t test in Manila, we will test them here when they arrive, so long as we have the test kits,” he said.

He also said that persons who will test positive for COVID-19 will immediately be taken to the new isolation facility at St. Therese MTCC Hospital.

If St. Therese MTCC Hospital is filled up, the additional patients will be taken to another facility at the University of Iloilo-PHINMA.

“If they test positive, then they will be taken to our quarantine isolation centers at [St. Therese-MTCC Hospital], which is ready to receive patients. The problem is that if there are more cases, we may not be able to accommodate them, so we are now also preparing the UI-PHINMA and maybe we can add another 100 patients. The problem there, then, is that if it adds more, then we will cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.

Treñas announced on Monday that he is in constant dialogue with the administration of the West Visayas State University Medical Center (WVSUMC) for its accreditation to become the second COVID-19 testing facility in the city.

He confirmed on Wednesday that officials from the DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) will be arriving soon to inspect the laboratory.

He added that the city government will push for the P15-million container van facility as an additional COVID-19 testing laboratory.

“We will push for the accreditation of the laboratory at WVSUMC. We were told that people from RITM and DOH will come here to look at their laboratory. We will also push for using the container van because the provider has assured us that they will prepare within two weeks and then send them here. If they cannot accredit the vans, then we will follow suggestions to pursue the van and buy equipment. We need to move to speed up testing because if we will only wait for WVMC, it would be a bit slow,” he said.



Treñas also said he is open to have Ilonggo workers from different parts of the country as well as Overseas Filipino Workers to be tested in gradual fashion.

“We are looking at having them tested here, because I’m receiving texts of those from Boracay, from Puerto Princesa, and [Department of Tourism] Secretary [Bernadette] Puyat informed me that there are also many in Manila. They are having difficulty finding food and they would have to fend for themselves. Our group will try to look for ways we can accommodate them. Their suggestion is to try, allowing one private plane with a few persons we can test, and see what the situation is,” he said.

According to data from the Department of Health, Iloilo City has seven confirmed COVID-19 cases including five active cases, one recovery, and one fatality.