Rapid test caused COVID-19 surge? 'Speculative,' says doctor

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2020 01:18 PM

A stranded individual carrying a Sto. Niño statue undergoes a rapid test for COVID-19 at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila on July 25, 2020. Czar Dancel, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — There is no evidence that rapid test kits spurred coronavirus infections, a doctor said Friday, as she pushed for its continued use in workplaces while authorities sought to lift the economy from recession.

Medical organizations that called for Metro Manila’s return to stricter lockdown measures over the weekend had urged government to stop the use of rapid test kits that detect the presence of coronavirus antibodies in the blood, saying this might have fueled the spread of COVID-19. 

“That is all speculative,” said Dr. Mininguita Padilla, medical team leader of Project Ark, a private sector initiative that helps local governments give rapid test kits to small businesses. 

“We asked them, do you have evidence, they said no, they don’t,” she added. 

On Tuesday, other doctos reiterated their call to stop the use of rapid antibody tests to screen for COVID-19 in workplaces and other settings, saying it gave a false sense of security and could have aggravated the outbreak in the Philippines.

“Dapat ihinto na yang rapid antibody test na yan. Sa buong mundo tayo na lang yata gumagamit niyan (para sa screening),” said Dr. Antonio Dans, spokesperson of The Healthcare Professions Alliance Against COVID-19 during a virtual forum organized by the Philippine College of Physicians.

(The use of these rapid antibody tests should be stopped. I think we’re the only country in the world still using it.)

Project Ark, in contrast, has data from big conglomerates that have been able to “keep their [COVID-19] incidence flat” with antibody tests.

Padilla said both the antibody test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screening, widely considered as the gold standard, have limitations. 

The antibody test might yield false negative results of one is screened too early, when antibodies against the coronavirus had not yet formed, she said. 

Rapid test kits have also been “more prone to misuse or misinterpretation” because these are widely available, even on the internet, and were used in some cases without a doctor’s supervision, Padilla said.

“You never use antibody test to diagnose. It’s very good for surveillance,” said the doctor. 

Meanwhile, the PCR test’s high rate of positivity “goes down” after the third day of infection, Padilla said. 

“Both PCR and antibody test can have false negatives and false positives. If you don’t know that and you don’t know the timing of when to do it and what it means, then you can get in trouble,” she said. 

“Rather than demonize any procedure—because everything is evolving—we have to regulate and we have to have clear guidelines,”she added. 

After Metro Manila’s return to the second strictest lockdown level on Aug. 18, returning workers do not need to be tested if they were quarantined for 14 days, and have no symptoms of and exposure to COVID-19, said Padilla. 

Those who have symptoms of the respiratory disease should undergo PCR screening, she said. 

The doctor urged the public to follow health protocols even if they get negative test results. 

“Everybody can get infected even if you test negative today. That’s why we can never let our guards down and we have to be responsible for our own behavior,” she said.