For approximately one month, as it copes with an immense backlog, the Molecular Laboratory Unit(MLU) will transfer the responsibility of COVID-19 testing for travel purposes, to the private owned labs.
A second intense spike in positive cases of COVID-19 has the country firmly in its grasp and the laboratory is struggling to cope.
Chief Laboratory Technician, Elliott Samuel described on Tuesday, October 12, on NBC radio that there comes a time when the number of samples taken into the lab exceeds their capacity to move them.
He had communicated that, “Because of the immense backlog we have now, we are about 2000 tests behind, our priority has to be given to dealing with the public health cases. The persons who are suspect cases, probable cases, contacts”
This would give the public health team a chance to get a better picture informationally, and allow them to try to break transmission, he explained.
He added that their throughput stands at approximately five hundred to six hundred tests per day, heading towards 700-800. However he noted that even though they have the capacity for that sort of throughput, it is often difficult to meet it.
“You have even the laboratory staff who are affected by the current spike that we are seeing here. I have about three persons who are actually out on sick leave because they have tested positive for COVID-19.”
“We do have laboratory staff who have other conditions, and the general…I don’t wanna say burnout, but people are getting fatigued and frustrated, so it’s really having an impact on the ability for us to turn around that amount of samples per day,” he explained further.
The lab Chief relayed that Cabinet took the decision on Monday, October 11 to put a hold on the testing of persons who have to travel abroad with some exceptions. The duration is supposed to be for one month, and just for the purpose of moving the backlog.
For this period “persons who are requiring a test for travel purposes, can now access those antigen and NAAT(Nucleic Acid Amplification Test done by the PCR method) testing through the private laboratories.”
Depending on the travel destination and route, travellers may require either the NAAT or rapid antigen test.
He listed some private laboratories where he believed testing services may be obtained, but when calls were placed to these labs yesterday only the Sigma Laboratory was offering the tests done by the PCR method, at a cost of $EC375. A rapid antigen test was also being offered at $EC180.
The Caribbean Reference Laboratory is able to offer rapid antigen testing at $EC150; and Eureka Lab is offering none.
Samuel indicated that,“The molecular lab will continue in a sense to try to offer exit screen testing but we are going to be doing so with a selective group of persons. So persons who have medical travel, farm workers who have to travel, people who are on scholarships,…person’s from Sandals who have bilateral agreements with the Government…”
They also intended to honour the exit screening tests which had been paid for up to Monday, October 11.
In revealing how the laboratory staff is coping, Samuel said, “It’s really quite a challenge, we are running three shifts back to back.”
The Molecular lab is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Samuel noted that it has been 24/25 months in from the beginning of the COVID-19 battle, and the last month has really been a challenge for the staff.