As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the country, hundreds of people are going to private laboratories to do testing.
At Victoria Laboratories Limited at Guppy Street, San Fernando, scores of cars lined up as early as 7 am, waiting for their drive-through COVID-19 tests. While the staff directed the traffic flow, swabs were taken from the clients while they sat in their vehicles.
Antigen tests results were made available within 20 minutes and the PCR test (polymerase chain reaction test) results were processed in less than 24-hours.
In the public health system, even though tests are free, some people complained in the past that it can sometimes take up to 10 days to get results.
At the Pleasantville Health Centre, only 50 people are accommodated for testing per day. A woman who requested anonymity claimed the Princes Town District Health facility is also overwhelmed for testing, adding that her sister waited for five hours before she was finally given a test.
Speaking to Guardian Media outside Victoria Labs on Tuesday, Sherwin Racquel of Claxton Bay said he needed the COVID test for work.
“This is required at Atlantic LNG. I came for antigen testing and if they find abnormalities they send us for a PCR test. After every shift you have to come and get tested,” Racquel revealed.
Naurice Mitchell said he needed the COVID test so that he can get clearance to travel. A woman and her colleague who requested anonymity said they were taking it out of an abundance of caution.
Another woman said she preferred to pay to get her tests results quickly
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Media, director of Vic Labs Neil Ajodha said he planned to ramp up testing to cope with demand.
“We are doing an average of 200 patients per day but I am going to do a late shift so we can handle a larger volume of people,” he said.
He noted that Vic Labs began doing the real-time PCR in August last year and was given certification and approval by the Ministry of Health.
“We are the only certified lab in South Trinidad. We are now going for international accreditation for COVID-19. A Canadian company that we are accredited with is reviewing it right now. All our papers are in and on June 2, we will be internationally accredited for COVID 19,” Ajodha said.
Asked what can be done to speed up testing and results in the public health system, Ajodha recommended that more testing centres should be set up. He also said there was a need for additional staffing to cope with increased demand.
Ajodha also said the antigen test could be done first as the first screening and those who come back positive could then be sent for PCR testing.
“The quick test, the antigen test is not as accurate compared to the PCR. You can miss a positive but it is good for the first time screening. We have three other different types of testing. We cover a lot of the viruses,” he explained.
He said apart from testing employees of big companies, Vic Labs also performs tests for those seeking clearance to travel.
Asked about the cost of testing, Ajodha said a PCR test cost $1,100.
“Because of the reagent cost we charge $1,100 and not only that but there are problems with foreign exchange. I have difficulty paying my bills. Sometimes they hold back my reagent,” he added.
He said he planned to invest in more equipment that will do the COVID-19 tests automatically rather than manually.