Your Guide to COVID-19 Testing: Who Needs Which Type of Test?

Avoid confusion on testing with these guidelines.
Photo/s: I Love Taguig

It’s easier to get tested for COVID-19 nowadays. And with different methods available -- RT-PCR test, antigen test, rapid antibody test -- it’s easy to get confused about when and how should you get tested.

Here's a quick recap: RT-PCR is considered the “gold standard” in COVID-19 detection and uses swab samples taken from the nose or mouth to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Antigen tests, which also uses swab samples, measures a substance in a person’s body that could generate an immune response against COVID-19.  

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Medical groups have repeatedly expressed doubts over rapid antibody tests, which uses blood samples, since these do not generate fully accurate results for COVID-19 screening.

Here is the Department of Health’s guide on who gets tested for COVID-19 using what, and how to address new infections:

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1. You've had close contact with a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case.

The DOH recommends screening for COVID-19 using RT-PCR for symptomatic cases only.  For asymptomatic cases, the DOH only recommends a 14-day quarantine. The policy also covers close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

2. You are returning to your hometown.

For those returning to their hometowns, no test is needed prior to travel if they are from areas with few COVID-19 infections and do not exhibit any symptoms. They are only required to observe minimum health standards when traveling.

For those coming from areas known as COVID-19 “hotspots,” the DOH recommends RT-PCR testing for both asymptomatic and symptomatic persons. Only those who will test negative for the virus will be allowed to travel.

3. You are a returning overseas Filipino, diplomat, Filipino traveler

Upon arrival in the Philippines, no COVID-19 test is required for Filipinos, and diplomats if they do not exhibit any symptoms of the disease and are coming from countries with a low prevalence of the virus.

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RT-PCR testing is required by the DOH for all travelers coming from countries where COVID-19 is prevalent and for those exhibiting symptoms of the disease.

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4. You are an international tourist.

Foreign tourists are exempted from COVID-19 testing if they are asymptomatic and are coming from countries with a low and mid prevalence of the virus.

Foreign travelers with symptoms of the disease who come from countries with low and mid prevalence of the virus meanwhile will be asked to undergo RT-PCR testing. Whether they test positive or negative for the virus, the DOH mandates that they be discharged after they no longer exhibit symptoms of the disease for at least 3 consecutive days and after completing a mandatory 14-day isolation.

Whether they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or not, the DOH rejects the entry of foreign tourists from countries where the virus remains widespread.

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5. You are a domestic tourist or staycationer

Local tourists who do not show any symptoms of COVID-19 are allowed to travel for leisure purposes in parts of the Philippines open to tourism as long as they adhere to minimum health standards.

Those coming from areas where there are still many infections and those with COVID-19 symptoms will meanwhile be required to undergo RT-PCR testing.

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6. You are a health worker, non-health frontliner in tourist zones or economy worker

Pooled testing—where samples from a group of individuals are be tested as one—is recommended for health workers, economy workers, and non-health frontliners in tourist zones for asymptomatic individuals from areas where there is less than 10% prevalence of COVID-19.

They are allowed to work while waiting for the results according to the DOH.

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Should the test come back positive, each person in the pool should be quarantined and tested individually for the virus. Those who will test negative can cut short their quarantine while those who test positive need to continue their quarantine and start contact tracing.

Workers with symptoms meanwhile should undergo a medical assessment and quarantine.

If there is a shortage of RT-PCR test kits, the health department recommends the use of antigen tests for symptomatic persons.

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