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TERRENCE DEYALSINGH, Minister of Health

Expanded COVID-19 testing facilities are coming.

The next lab to go on stream for testing may be at the South West Regional Health Authority or Tobago’s RHA – and diagnostic testing for the virus will also be done at hospitals ahead.

Word on testing facilities came yesterday from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and the ministry’s principal epidemiologist Dr Naresh Nandram at the daily COVID-19 update briefing.

Deyalsingh said the next lab for COVID work may be in SWRHA or Tobago, adding a new machine will be placed at the venue when decided. He said the delay was due to an embargo on 4,000 test kits which were supposed to go to SWRHA but he couldn’t give their arrival time as the embargo was partially lifted.

He said as soon as the kits arrive they’ll go to SWRHA.

“But we also want to give Tobago capacity to do testing. So it could be Tobago first depending on the logistics at this time,” Deyalsingh added.

Nandram said diagnostic testing – point of care testing – will be done at every hospital ahead. This is being pursued by the ministry’s procurement division but didn’t have a date yet. He said the testing will use the gold standard of diagnostic testing.

Expansion of testing sites is becoming necessary, he added, since the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is handling testing for the region including T&T. Nandram said T&T’s trying to collaborate with CARPHA to establish and expand national testing capacity.

After samples are collected from the public health sector, these go to the T&T Public Health Labs and currently go to CARPHA. They’re sent subsequently to a UWI testing site. He said later, the ministry will bring on several other testing sites at other northern RHAs and via the Medical Association using larger machines.

Nandram added there are eight staffers at UWI working shifts doing extraction and amplification procedures for testing. The UWI operation – not yet on a 24-hour basis – is being finalised this week.

The ministry also trained 83 lab technicians and sensitised them to procedures.

For proper evaluation to be done, random sampling is necessary and testing is expanding beyond CARPHA’s definition. But given limited resources and the pressing need to expand testing, examining asymptomatic people is difficult, he said.

Given the estimated 50 per cent discharge rate of COVID patients, Nandram was asked whether T&T has stabilised the situation. However, he said the most he could say is that in the past couple days things were going relatively well and warned against viewing that everything was fine permanently.