• The San Juan Daily Star

Scientific Coalition advises on proper testing in the face of virus surge

The Scientific Coalition of Puerto Rico says the increase in cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 represents a great challenge for the health sector in relation to testing.

By The Star Staff

The Scientific Coalition of Puerto Rico stated Thursday that given the increase in cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19, it is representing, and will represent, a great challenge for the health sector in relation to testing.

“We already see an impact on the testing and tracking systems, which are at capacity due to the high demand for tests and the large number of cases. The agile diagnosis of positive cases is critical in the implementation of health strategies, such as the administration of antiviral and monoclonal treatments,” the Scientific Coalition said in a written statement. “We suggest that prioritization systems be established to serve the most vulnerable communities that need testing (and tracing) to determine clinical treatments that could save lives in this period. The prioritization systems could include centers dedicated to serving the most vulnerable groups, or ‘fast track’ lines that facilitate the administration of tests to symptomatic patients who need it most.”

Due to the number of active cases, and considering the capacity of the investigation systems, the coalition suggests prioritizing the cases to be investigated by age groups: over 50 years or younger than five years, which represent the most vulnerable groups, or unvaccinated pediatric groups.

“We have observed a significant number of patients coming for multiple confirmatory tests during the quarantine process, which creates an additional challenge for laboratories,” said Dr. Kenira Thompson, a member of the group of scientists.

The coalition encourages only repeat antigen testing (or validation with PCR) in those patients who test negative in the presence of symptoms. They also urge the Department of Health to launch an education campaign on how to make judicious use of tests, and the importance of quarantines and isolations during this period.

“We request that patients who already have a positive result by antigen test (even if it is homemade) be encouraged not to go for a confirmatory molecular test unless they are over 50 years old or under 5 years old, are overweight (BMI > 25) or have a chronic condition,” Thompson said.

Patients who obtain home test results must use the Department of Health’s new “bar-code” system to upload their results to the BioPortal. If home tests are positive, even without symptoms, patients must presume they are positive for COVID-19 and be in isolation for 10 days even if they have completed their vaccination cycle.

“It is important to protect patients in hospitals, and the capacity of the health sector in the face of this new upturn in cases and hospitalizations,” Thompson said. “We suggest that the Department of Health require the use of the N-95 mask for all clinical personnel who care for patients in hospitals. KN-95 or surgical masks are not as effective as N-95 masks and to protect healthcare professionals and patients, N-95 masks are specifically needed.”

The coalition also suggests limiting or eliminating hospital visits at this time. Likewise, they suggest limiting or eliminating visits to homes for the elderly (or similar facilities where the elderly or vulnerable groups are cared for) at this time, and that nursing homes require all doses of vaccination of their employees and of older adults residing in the same.

Although monoclonal treatments are less effective against omicron, there are new measures to combat COVID infections, such as antiviral treatments. However, it is important that these measures are integrated with the virus’s diagnostic processes, and that the treatments are given within the windows of effectiveness so that they have the desired effects.

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