The Math of Capacities

Why is WVMC-SNL slow in releasing COVID-19 test results

Just yesterday, the Western Visayas Medical Center Sub-National Laboratory (WVMC-SNL) issued Advisory No. 11 explaining various reasons to the delays on releasing of test results.

Reason No. 1 is that they can process 800 to 1,000 samples per day. Looking at how these numbers are figured, it means that on a regular basis and in normal conditions, it can at least finish 800 samples. With optimism, they can do extra and reach at most 1,000 samples. However, they have been receiving 1,200 on average per day. So the numbers could really add up. If they process 800 samples out of 1,200 samples on a Monday, they have backlogs of 400. Moving to Tuesday, the total will now be 1,600 samples (the backlogs of Monday which is 400 plus another 1,200). If they process the same 800 samples, the backlogs by the end of Tuesday will also be 800. And so on.

Assuming for five days, 1,200 samples per day would equate to 6,000 samples. For five days, minimum capacity in normal conditions would sum up only a mere 4,000 processed samples and a backlog of 2,000 which would need an additional three days to process.

Reason Nos. 2, 3, and 4 are also important for the processing of the samples and for the lives those who work in the laboratory. It is reported that some of their staff fell prey to the coronavirus. Due to this, decontamination of the lab was done which incurred unworkable days. As the time is ticking and the samples keep adding, they had to cease operations, at least for a few days from August 11-14, 2020. Not to mention, their normal capacity might have been compromised already since some of their staff could not work.

Reason No. 5 acknowledges the fact that they are a government institution and as passionate civil servants who are in the front line of our coronavirus response, they simply cannot refuse receiving samples. They tried to release results in three to four days but given the increase of pending samples that keeps filling to the brim of their capacity, it is simply hopeless to deliver right on time. It ended up with Reason No. 6 which is for them to have a turn-around time of seven to eight days.

Thus, we cannot really force the laboratory to perform beyond capacity. Otherwise, quality of results might be compromised.

Lastly, Reason No. 7 means there is really a short of medical technologies who have the required competencies to perform highly technical procedures. Just like in an assembly line, one person might be trained to work on component A, one in component B, and one in component C. If one of them is missing, then component A and B may be done by one person who is originally proficient in component A only. Thus, we cannot really force the laboratory to perform beyond capacity. Otherwise, quality of results might be compromised.


Given the above reasons, there are two best solutions but I am not sure which one could be answered faster:

The first one is to increase and properly manage capacities of testing across the private and public testing facilities. Strategies may include the expedited upgrading of the capacity of WVMC-SNL who is in the process of employing GeneXpert system. In a source that I found, the GeneXpert system test can provide rapid detection of the current pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in as soon as 30 minutes for positive results with less than a minute of hands on time to prepare the sample. Also, there should be a testing referral system across various facilities that can process the samples. There are also private facilities which the government could subsidize to also undertake the processing of samples.

The second one is simple and everyone can do his or her share and that is to absolutely stay home or to limit their contacts so that the spread and the number of COVID-19 suspected cases will be minimized. Employers should give more space to those who are working and finding a living and provide flexibility in work arrangements when possible. We can efficiently run the economy while being safe. Always wear a mask, follow protocols (even if some maybe a bit crazy, just follow), and keep your hands clean to keep yourself from being infected.

I know there are more ways but all I want to share is that the WVMC-SNL is doing all it could to deliver. What we need right now is our cooperation and our commitment to ensure that we do not end up as COVID-19 suspected cases to reduce the number of tests to be done. Let us face reality that our testing capacity cannot increase in a blink of an eye. But we can do our part as citizens to be responsible for ourselves and others not to end up in the pending list.

Published by Ilonggo Engineer

Ilonggo Engineer or Ray, is a civil engineer and a writer who strongly advocates for road safety, technology literacy, and social equity.

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