Earlier in the news, we heard the Director of Health Services talk about expanding COVID-19 testing and the roll-out of random testing. Dr. Manzanero explained to Love News yesterday that the idea of voluntary testing would not be practical and neither would mass testing. He added that the random testing would include the front line personnel who would be more at risk.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “We have started the process of expanding the testing situation. In discussion with Central Health Region which deals with the Belize District I can tell you that there have been random testing that has happened at banking facilities so elements of that have happened, some police men have also been randomly screened it’s important we say that. We also developed a listing of potential front line workers that we can go and do random swabbing testing. Understand that we are not going to be testing everybody but in our listing we have for example people from elderly homes, the caregivers of those people in elderly homes, Coast Guard, Immigration, Customs are in our list, healthcare workers even if they’re not ill which would include nurses, doctors, pharmacists, lab technicians, bus operators, water taxi operators, tour guides. So what we’re doing is developing a listing to look at numbers of persons in these different categories and then we’ll do a random sampling which means if I have 422 doctors in the official list ten percent of those would be 40-42 doctors that you would do random sampling. It’s not going to be on a volunteer basis we are going to do a randomization process which is a statistical method that will be done to identify where and who these persons are going to be that’s what we’re trying to do as we expand our testing and we’re going to start that as early as we move into this weekend. Also as we are getting less people that are tied to the last cases understand that we’re not going to be necessarily testing every day why, because we’re going to be swabbing people across the country and if you don’t have anybody that’s critically ill, remember we are looking for people who are asymptomatic trying to tease out asymptomatic carriers then you won’t necessarily have to rush all these samples to Belize City and run them through. So we may be moving towards doing testing every two days the lab has confirmed that they would be in a capacity to run 90 test daily at least for the next couple of weeks to determine what our potential number is out there but as we move along we may not be doing testing everyday. Of course if you have any critical case that you need to make a determination those would go through rather quickly but just so you know in terms of how the infographic eventually is uploaded on a daily basis. You will notice also that we have started sharing data how we compare to other countries people have bigger epidemics and our neighbors so that information will continue to be placed in on a routine basis on our website.”
If all goes as planned, Belize may be advancing in its local intelligence in latter May as the Ministry of Health is hoping to conduct immunity testing and rapid testing. In addition to this, Dr. Manzanero also spoke of the medications that were being tested to treat COVID-19.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: We are looking at other testing possibilities yes eventually looking at the possibility of testing for antibodies but we don’t have an approved test as yet. That will not replace the current testing procedure we are doing which is PCR testing because we would be doing what’s called a parallel testing, you test PCR which is what we are doing which is the gold standard and the ideal test to determine any case and antibody testing would be to see whether you have developed immunity to the virus or not; that we hope to introduce towards the end of May once you have approved antibody tests. Same thing becomes applicable to rapid tests once they have been approved and are available in the market we should be having access to those, again we’re thinking perhaps towards the latter part of May. One other thing I have that I need to update people on is the treatment options available. You know that there was a lot of hype around hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, Lopinavir, Ritonavir, Interferon but recent studies would suggest that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t seem to be as effective as it was initially thought to be as a matter of fact one of the warnings now is that you may actually have more detrimental effect with the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine so that we are asking that those elements of the guidelines be reevaluated and see if we need to take it out. Same thing with Lopinavir/Retonovir which we never used in Belize not for COVID-19 but again the newer suggestion is that it doesn’t seem to work. We are following what other countries are doing if Remdesivir is another medication that seems to show some benefit we don’t have that available in Belize and there’s a Mexican cohort using steroids and a medication used for Rheumatoid arthritis that we are also following closely they have a small study sample that’s showing some potential benefit but again it’s all a work in progress for us. Our swabs, because we had a bit of delay they didn’t arrive on the flight on Saturday, they should have arrived or are arriving on the flight today, the ventilators that were pending to arrive also arrived via ship they didn’t come through the usual route of the plane so that’s something that I think is positive from our end. So that’s what we had to share in terms of the testing.”
In recent weeks, persons have been reaching out to the Ministry of Health requesting testing. They have proposed to pay to be tested despite not being evidentially exposed to COVID-19. Dr. Manzanero explained that those persons who have been clamoring for mass testing are not being logical and are not versed with all the information. He explained why this would be difficult.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “There’s a random methodology. We’ve been getting a lot of calls “Can I volunteer ?, Can I pay to get tested ?” While that might be an option remember we’re going to be looking for asymptomatic carriers, people who are potentially more exposed so you can’t be doing procedures that are going to give you a low yield. If you had somebody that never interacts with anybody else then there’s no sense in swabbing that person you swab those who are potentially more exposed and the random sampling of all these front line workers would give us an opportunity to test people from across the country. Just to give you an idea of how difficult it may be in terms of randomizing or picking people randomly from a group we asked BTB for information in terms of hotels and they gave us a listing of 150 hotels that had 100 or more guests for the month of March but they were not able to tell us how many people are employed by each of these 150 hotels or how many of the hotel people were actually exposed to any potential tourists so that gives you a picture of how difficult it may be to eventually get a total sense of numbers so you’re gonna have to go through a methodology process to pick those persons. Beyond the reagents yeah the reagents that Bowen and Bowen is donating have not arrived they are arriving in May and again this is not necessarily things that are easy or difficult to get you have to deal with the logistics of how it gets here but you also have to deal with the fact that these are items that are on a wait list from the production companies that all countries are buying from so it’s not only a question of the finances. As is we would have the ability to with the reactions from PAHO that they are donating a total of 14,000 so that would give you an idea that you could potentially test up to 14,000 people.”