DOH-RITM  testing for all senators was proper—Senate doctor

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The decision to submit all senators to the DOH-RITM testing for the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was wise and proper as a precautionary step to assure the wellness and safety of the lawmakers, a doctor of the Senate said on Tuesday.

“All Senators should be safe and healthy at this time because they have a very important duty to perform,” said Dr. Cristeta Cocjin, Medical and Dental Bureau chief of the Senate, in reaction to critics denouncing the move of the Senate.

Cocjin said that the foresight of Senate President Vicente Sotto III was to ensure that they are ready and healthy should President Rodrigo Duterte call for a special session.

Senator Migz Zubiri was tested positive for COVID-9.

Cocjin said Sotto  and several other senators were tested on March 17, 2020 at the Senate using Department of Health-Food and Drug Administration licensed test kits administered by a medical team from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

Sotto previously had himself tested already, but Cocjin said the first time cannot be considered official since it was self-administered using an unregistered test kit given by a friend of the Senate President.

Sotto has yet to receive the result of his DOH-RITM testing.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Tuesday that some  politicians and other prominent personalities requested the RITM in Muntinlupa City that they be tested for the new virus.

However, Duque admitted that some of the “very important persons (VIPs)”  met the initial criteria of the DOH for testing at RITM.

“There were direct requests made to the RITM by the ‘VIP.’ I have no details of each one of them that had requested for testing. Sufficient to say, indeed some of them had really fit in the initial criteria for testing,” he said.

Prior to the revision of the DOH testing guidelines on March 16,  Duque said those with  mild flu-like symptoms, those with travel to areas with local transmission, and contact with a patient were allowed to be tested.

Duque said that majority of the senators who were tested came in contact with a  resource person tested positive for the novel virus during one of the hearings in the Senate.

The wife of the said resource speaker was also tested positive for COVID-19 and later died.

In a statement on Monday, the DOH stressed there are no VIPs when it comes to COVID-19 testing, but admits it gives “courtesy” to officials involved in national security and public health.

The DOH issued the statement due to public criticism for the testing given to President Rodrigo Duterte, members of the presidential family, Cabinet members, and the senators even if they did not exhibit virus symptoms.

Despite his admission that several VIPs were tested for the viral disease, Duque said this does not mean that patients with severe symptoms were not taken care of.

“The point is these people were managed in the hospitals. It’s not as if the lack of test result led to the non-care of the patient. They were cared for in the ICU,” Duque said.

Admitting that there were several cases in the country where the patient died before receiving their COVID-19 test results, Duque  said this was due to the delay in the release of test results.

He said the RITM stopped testing for a while because of surge of cases.

“They were afraid their bio-safety laboratory standards were already breached and didn’t want an epidemic in the laboratory so they stopped. So there was a delay in the  test results,” he said.

The DOH testing parameters provides that those who show severe symptoms, senior citizens; patients with cancer, diabetes, and hypertension; and pregnant women with mild symptoms,  will also be tested for COVID-19.

However, Duque said DOH is eyeing to change its rules again on who should be tested for the coronavirus disease.

He said those with mild symptoms may be tested once the rules are revised. /Stacy Ang

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