RIGHT TEST FOR THE RIGHT REASON: UPDATES ON TESTING TECHNOLOGIES AND PROTOCOLS FOR COVID-19

Press Release | 31 March 2021

On the Use of Rapid Antigen Tests to Confirm COVID-19 Cases

Pursuant to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 106-A authorizing the procurement and use of Rapid Antigen Test Kits in accordance with Department of Health (DOH) Department Memorandum (D.M.) 2020-0468 which provides technical guidance on the use of antigen tests, the DOH shall allow the use of rapid antigen as diagnostic and confirmatory tests for close contacts, and COVID-19 suspect and probable cases in the NCR+ area (Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Metro Manila), without the need for Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing. This is to ensure that the appropriate response and control measures may be immediately initiated by Local Government Units (LGUs) to contain further spread of the virus.

In accordance with existing guidelines, while a positive rapid antigen test result is considered a confirmatory test for COVID-19 suspect and probable cases and close contacts, those with a negative result will be subject to a confirmatory RT-PCR test or a repeat antigen test after 48 hours.

The DOH, however, emphasizes that RT-PCR testing remains to be the gold standard for confirming the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and that the use of rapid antigen tests as confirmatory tests shall only be allowed until the declaration of outbreak in the NCR+ area has been lifted. Moreover, antigen testing SHALL NOT be used for border control, pre-travel testing, workplace screening, or testing of asymptomatic general contacts.

Additionally, only qualified licensed healthcare professionals in local health offices, health facilities, accredited quarantine and isolation facilities, and certified COVID-19 confirmatory laboratory facilities are authorized to administer rapid antigen tests and interpret its results. Further, rapid antigen test kits to be administered should be registered with the Food and Drug Administration, and validated by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or other designated institutions.

On the Inclusion of Rapid Antigen Test-Confirmed Cases in the Total Case Count:

Considering the aforementioned development, the DOH shall also include suspect and probable cases and close contacts with positive rapid antigen tests from areas with declared outbreaks—in this case the NCR+ area—as confirmed in the daily case count, as well as in the total case count being reported by the Department. However, reporting of COVID-19 cases shall be disaggregated based on the type of test used. Those cases who tested positive but do not fit the case definition of suspect and probable case or close contact under existing DOH issuances shall be retested using RT-PCR for them to be tagged as a confirmed COVID-19 case.