MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday reiterated that rapid antibody tests should not be used to screen people for COVID-19.
The DOH said this when asked what it could suggest to those managing the movement of stranded individuals following the experience at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, where government had placed thousands en route to their home provinces under the Hatid Tulong program.
The sports complex was closed for decontamination on Thursday morning after 48 of the stranded passengers tested positive in their rapid tests. They are awaiting results of their confirmatory swab tests.
“Pinapaalala po namin na hindi po dapat gawing screening test ang rapid antibody test para ma-confirm na COVID-19 positive,” the DOH said in a statement.
(We want to remind that we should not use rapid antibody tests as a screening test to confirm if a person is COVID-19 positive.)
The DOH explained that a positive result might only mean that they had COVID-19 before and that they have antibodies as part of the immune response against the disease.
“Kung mag-test man sila ng positive sa RT-PCR, since ito 'yung confirmatory test, dapat ma-isolate ang mga COVID-19 cases,” the DOH said.
(If they are confirmed positive through the RT-PCR, since this is the confirmatory test, there is a need to isolate COVID-19 cases.)
The DOH has repeatedly talked about the risks of using rapid antibody tests, including false positives and false negatives.
Medical societies also questioned its use for screening returning workers because of accuracy concerns.
The health department said it was already coordinating with other government agencies to ensure the health protocols in the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
The DOH added that the previously issued Administrative Order 2020-0015 enumerates correct control measures including the use of personal protective equipment.
Among the guidelines are the use of red marking tapes to remind people to keep a meter's distance from the next person, limited number of people inside enclosed spaces, and the wearing of cloth or surgical masks, especially for those with symptoms.
The government drew flak for the Hatid Tulong program as videos and photos showed how thousands of stranded individuals were crammed together at the Rizal stadium last week, unable to practice physical distancing in the face of the virus threat. They have since traveled home.