Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) – October 26, 2020 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — PBA medical consultant and oversight committee chairman Dr. Jose Raul (George) Canlas said yesterday one of the safest places to be in this pandemic is the Clark bubble where the pro league has resumed its 45th season. That’s why when a swab test of a PBA referee returned a positive result last Wednesday, Canlas wasn’t worried.

A positive swab test involving a Blackwater player drew a similar reaction from Canlas. The player has been isolated and retested. It’s likely that like the referee, the positive reading may be an inconclusive testing. The player’s antigen test later came out negative and the result of his repeat confirmatory swab is pending. Samples are processed in labs at the Jose B. Lingad Hospital in San Fernando. Other lab facilities may be tapped for faster turnaround of results and more reliability. 

“All indications for the referee point to an inconclusive testing,” said Canlas. “This has nothing to do with the individual or the virus. The reverse PCR machines have a small percentage of inaccuracy. The timelines of constant testing and the smallest possibility of exposure before he came into the bubble do not point to an active infection. The antigen test done is not as accurate but as a recent (University of California at San Francisco) study showed, in a population that has very low prevalence, like the bubble and constant testing, it is as good as any test.”

After the referee came out positive, he was subjected to an antigen test and a repeat swab. He was extracted from the bubble immediately and brought to isolation in the New Clark City Athletes Village which was a hub during the recent SEA Games. “The CDC (Clark Development Corp.) team was on point with the handling of the case,” said Canlas. “They were able to isolate, identify and quarantine tier one and two contacts right away. I’m pretty sure the retest will be negative but of course, with the virus, you’ll never know. (NBA Director of Sports Medicine) Dr. John DiFiori actually mentioned inconclusive testing in the NBA bubble.”

In the NBA bubble, it was reported that a Sacramento Kings player quarantined for two days after an inconclusive test but successive negative results allowed him to play after clearing protocols. Canlas and DiFiori are members of the 12-man FIBA Medical Commission. As Canlas expected, the repeat swab test on the referee turned out negative. He was right all along.

Bases Conversion and Development Authority president/CEO and deputy chief implementer of the government’s response against COVID-19 secretary Vince Dizon said the first index case of the referee who was cleared to be negative after a repeat test is proof that the PBA bubble has not been breached. “Testing is only one aspect of protecting everyone in the bubble,” he said. “There are other layers of protocol put in place, benchmarks that we learned from the NBA and NFL experience. No test is 100 percent accurate, even the PCR which is considered the gold standard. Although the referee has retested negative, he will still be in isolation for five more days to finish his quarantine then before going back to the bubble, he’ll be tested again. Our protocols are working and keeping everyone safe.”

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