We look at the reality of COVID-19 testing in Colombia: how many COVID-19 tests are being done and compare to testing in other countries. On October 20, Colombia reported a record 52,727 COVID-19 tests were completed in one day.

Many Medellin Guru readers have asked about COVID-19 testing in Colombia. Also, we have seen many inaccurate posts about COVID-19 testing in Medellín and Colombia on the Internet including in several Facebook groups.

In this article, we look at the facts of COVID-19 testing in Colombia including the number of tests Colombia has actually completed and compare to other countries, We also look at how many labs in Colombia are currently doing tests and how many daily tests.

We also look at a testing issues Colombia has faced in the past and may continue to face due to a global shortage of test kits and chemical reagents for testing for COVID-19.

COVID-19 Testing in Colombia 

On October 24, 2020, Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) in Colombia reported that it had completed a total of 4,718,734 COVID-19 tests in Colombia.

This means that Colombia has completed 92,589 COVID-19 tests per million people in Colombia based on a population of 50.96 million.

We compare this COVID-19 testing in Colombia with several other countries in Latin America as well to the U.S., UK and South Korea in the following table:

COVID-19 testing in several countries, source of data Worldometer and countries, Oct. 24

COVID-19 testing in several countries, source of data Worldometer and countries, Oct. 24

Note we no longer include Brazil in our table above, as it appears that Brazil has stopped publishing testing numbers daily for over a week.

Only Brazil in Latin American has done more total COVID-19 tests than in Colombia. Also, Colombia has done more tests per million in population than Argentina, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Mexico and many other countries not in the table.

Also, a few countries in Latin America have done more testing per million in population such as Chile, Panama and Peru, as seen in the above table.

Colombia has been ramping up testing for coronavirus for several months as seen in the following graphic but dropped the past few weeks and then started to increase again:

Counts of COVID-19 tests in Colombia by week, data source Instituto Nacional de Salud, Oct. 4

Counts of COVID-19 tests in Colombia by week, data source Instituto Nacional de Salud, Oct. 4

For the week of October 12 to 18, Colombia averaged 37,122 tests per day. This was up dramatically from the week of May 18-24, when Colombia averaged only 6,917 tests per day.

Also, the following list shows that test counts per day from October 2 to 24:

  • October 1 – 38,382 tests
  • October 2 – 42,544 tests
  • October 3 – 42,804 tests
  • October 4 – 32,661 tests
  • October 5 – 35,973 tests
  • October 6 – 37,623 tests
  • October 7 – 37,552 tests
  • October 8 – 42,155 tests
  • October 9 – 49,631 tests
  • October 10 – 44,379 tests
  • October 11 – 32,261 tests
  • October 12 – 28,318 tests
  • October 13 – 32,832 tests
  • October 14 – 36,123 tests
  • October 15 – 43,574 tests
  • October 16 – 43,129 tests
  • October 17 – 43,891 tests
  • October 18 – 31,988 tests
  • October 19 – 33,533 tests
  • October 20 – 49,781 tests
  • October 21 – 47,238 tests
  • October 22 – 51,544 tests
  • October 23 – 52,727 tests
  • October 24 – 50,393 tests

Also, note that the first coronavirus case in Colombia was on March 6, 2020 but in the month of February 2020 before the first case, INS conducted 599 tests in Colombia looking for the first case.

Furthermore, the testing count from day-to-day in Colombia is not consistent but the weekly count trend is increasing. See the variation in the number of tests conducted day-to-day in the following 10 days in Colombia:

  • April 1 – 2,390 tests
  • April 2 – 1,159 tests
  • April 3 – 1,340 tests
  • April 4 – 1,237 tests
  • April 5 – 1,558 tests
  • April 6 – 2,421 tests
  • April 7 – 2,760 tests
  • April 8 – 3,130 tests
  • April 9 – 1,335 tests
  • April 10 – 2,433 tests

According to INS, the variability during this time was due to the fact that Colombia is forced to import laboratory supplies such as chemical reagents.

So, the number of tests that Colombia can do in a day depends on the availability of laboratory supplies at labs in Colombia including chemical reagents. Reagent shortages has emerged as a key constraint for increasing the rate of testing in Colombia and the rest of the world.

COVID-19 Testing in Colombia is Dropping as Active Cases Drop

Colombia primarily tests people with symptoms or have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

The number of active coronavirus cases in Colombia has been dropping as recoveries increase, as seen in the following chart.

Total active coronavirus cases by day in Colombia, source: Worldometers, Oct. 21

Total active coronavirus cases by day in Colombia, source: Worldometers, Oct. 21

On October 24, out of a total of 998,942 coronavirus cases in Colombia, 68,008 cases were active. So, only 7 percent of total cases were active on October 24, as seen below:

Current status of coronavirus cases in Colombia, source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Oct. 24

Current status of coronavirus cases in Colombia, source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Oct. 24

COVID-19 Testing by Department (State) in Colombia

While Colombia has completed 92,589 COVID-19 tests per million people in Colombia on October 24, the testing per million varies by department (state) in Colombia.

There has been testing done in all the departments in Colombia. But a higher percentage of testing than the national average is being done in several departments including Amazonas, Bogotá, Antioquia and Valle de Cauca.COVID-19 tests per million people in Colombia on October 21, the testing per million varies by department (state) in Colombia.

Amazonas is a lowly populated department. So, a smaller number tests results in a higher number per million. Medellín is located in Antioquia and Cali is located in Valle de Cauca. And a lower percentage of testing is being done in departments with only a few coronavirus cases.

The following table shows the daily and total number of COVID-19 tests that have been completed as of October 24 in each departamento (department or state) in Colombia and the percent of total tests that were positive.

Also, the table includes the total number of cases of coronavirus by department and the number of new daily cases on October 24.

Coronavirus counts on October 24 and COVID-19 tests in Colombian departments on October 24, source Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) Oct. 24

Coronavirus counts on October 24 and COVID-19 tests in Colombian departments on October 24, source Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) Oct. 24

In the table above, we include red departments where total the testing positive rate is 25 percent or higher.

Note in the above table, do not assume that new reported daily cases match the new reported daily tests. There can be a lag between reporting new tests and new cases. So, it is not valid to use these daily numbers to determine a daily positive testing rate.

Colombia Adds More Labs for COVID-19 Testing

The testing rate for COVID-19 should increase in Colombia. On April 9, INS reported it planned to have capacity for 17,000 tests per day in a month. And on August 20, Colombia reported it had capacity for over 54,000 COVID-19 tests daily.

On April 9, INS reported it had 17 labs doing COVID-19 tests with plans to have 20 more labs starting tests in the following week.  In addition, by April 11, the count of labs in Colombia for COVID-19 testing had increased to a total of 23 labs with six new labs added with an additional capacity for 2,378 daily tests for coronavirus:

  1. Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá – 300 daily tests
  2. Universidad del Bosque in Bogotá – 200 daily tests
  3. Compensar in Bogotá in 2 locations – 1,400 daily tests
  4. Colsanitas Laboratorio Molecular Keralty in Bogotá – 370 daily tests
  5. Fundación Santa Fe in Bogotá – 48 daily tests
  6. University of Córdoba in Montería – 60 daily tests

By April 15, INS reported it had 47 labs doing COVID-19 tests with plans to increase this to 70 labs. And by August 20, INS actually had 119 labs doing COVID-19 tests .

With 119 labs, Colombia now reportedly has the lab capacity for over 54,000 COVID-19 tests daily. But this depends on having sufficient lab supplies including chemical reagents. However, the most tests Colombia has done in one day so far was on October 23 – 52,727 tests.

Colombia Previously Had a Testing Capacity Issue

There has been an issue in the past with testing capacity in some cities in Colombia. But this improved dramatically by June as Colombia added labs.

INS, claims the variability in tests per day back in March and April in Colombia was due to the fact that Colombia is forced to import laboratory supplies such as chemical reagents. However, we believe Colombia also experienced a testing capacity issue in some cities in the past.

For example, in Medellín, from March 30 to April 6, a total of 1,071 tests were processed and 634 tests were still pending to know the test results. So, in a period of a week, Medellín averaged only 153 tests per day. But Medellín still had a backlog of 634 tests due to insufficient capacity.

Also, we believe that Cali had a COVID-19 testing capacity issue, as news reports in April indicated that tests in Cali were taking up to 10 days.

There is currently a global shortage of test kits and chemical reagents for testing for COVID-19. And Colombia must compete with other countries. As a result, there can be testing shortages and extended wait times for test results.

For example, here is an article in Canada about shortages and shortages in Australia and many other countries have reported test kit and chemical reagent shortages.

By the end of July 2020, testing issues are much improved in Colombia, as Colombia started to do over 30,000 tests per day with over 100 labs.

COVID-19 Testing Types

There are two main testing methods for COVID-19: RT-PCR and rapid tests.

The first type of test, RT-PCR is a molecular test that is considered the gold standard and is used by Colombia. PT-PCR stands for reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction test, which tries to find genetic sequences of the virus by deploying primers – chemicals or reagents which are added to test if a reaction occurs – that attach to the targeted genetic sequences.

The PCR test is performed with throat or nasal swabs and is only reliable in the first week of the disease. Later, the virus can disappear in the throat while it continues to multiply in the lungs.

For infected people tested in the second week, sample material can be taken from the deep airways by suction catheter or coughing up material (sputum) can be used.

However, PCR tests are far more complex to develop and manufacture with an acute global shortage of quality testing equipment and reagents. Also, PCR tests must be done in a lab and most PCR tests can take a few hours to a few days. The RT-PCR test is the only type of test used in Colombia for reported COVID-19 testing statistics.

But new rapid molecular diagnostic tests for COVID-19 can provide results in less than an hour. For example, Abbott’s new ID Now can deliver results in minutes using a small machine that can be used at a point-of-care and doesn’t require a lab.

The other type of test is a rapid serological test that relies on detecting antibodies in a blood sample, usually obtained through a simple finger prick. These tests do not require special equipment to process the results, which allows them to be used at point-of-care.

When you’re exposed to COVID-19, your body develops antibodies, which can take several days to over a week. Serological tests are much faster than standard molecular tests, returning results in as few as 10-15 minutes.

However, since it can take several days for the body to develop an antibody response to the virus, serological tests may not be reliable in identifying a current infection. Serological tests have the potential of producing a false negative, a false result when you actually have the infection.

Colombia’s Rapid COVID-19 Tests

The first batch of 47,500 rapid tests for the diagnosis of COVID-19 arrived in early April in the country, as reported by the Minister of Health and Social Protection, Fernando Ruiz Gómez.

These tests, which are the first of several batches, were planned to be used at be at a point-of-care in offices or clinics to diagnose people. In the event that a rapid antibody detection test is positive, it must be confirmed with RT-PCR test.

On March 25 the Health Ministry in Colombia announced that it plans to increase testing capability to at least 350,000 rapid tests per week. This will enable detecting more cases to ensure those who are infected are isolated so they don’t infect more people.

But that 350,000 per week goal is questionable even thought Colombia was to receive over 1 million rapid tests. Also, after May there was almost nothing in the Colombian news about rapid testing anymore.

Abbott Laboratories in the U.S. was sending over 1 million COVID-19 rapid tests to Colombia in April. Also, reportedly 50,000 COVID-19 rapid tests were received in Colombia from South Korea on April 6 and another 10,000 COVID-19 rapid tests were received from the UAE on April 8.

However, Colombia has been testing the Basepoint rapid test from the Abbott laboratories. And found after a sampling of 311 analysis that if the rapid test is used in patients with a symptom time of less than 11 days, there is a risk that the result is a “false negative”, despite the fact that patients are sick.

So, the bottom line is these rapid COVID-19 tests do not really confirm diagnosis but are complementary to the RT-PCR test and can be used in epidemiological surveillance. With almost nothing in the news about rapid testing anymore, it appears that Colombia is no longer serious about doing so many rapid tests.

Number to Call in Medellín if You Think You Have Coronavirus

Medellín uses the 123 emergency phone number for coronavirus reports.

People who in the last two weeks have been in countries where the virus circulates, and who have symptoms such as cough, fever, nasal congestion and muscle fatigue, or who have been in contact with patients who meet with the above criteria can call this emergency number.

Medellín asks residents to make responsible use of this single line of emergencies, and also recommends consulting EPS health insurance websites.

Medellin Guru’s Coronavirus Series

Medellin Guru has a series of articles about the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts in Colombia: Also, these articles are being kept up-to-date, as this is a fast-moving topic:

The Bottom Line: COVID-19 Testing in Colombia – Reality About Coronavirus Testing

Colombia has increasing its capacity for COVID-19 testing but can be challenged with a global shortage of testing kits and chemical reagents.

Many foreigners have wondered why Colombia can’t increase COVID-19 testing faster. There are obvious limits in terms of laboratories, lab professionals, equipment and health care staff to administer tests.

More limiting growth of testing is a global shortage of testing kits and chemical reagents to contend with. China is ramping up COVID-19 testing exports but can’t keep up with global demand.

Lack of tests is one reason that over one-third of the world has implemented quarantines and lockdowns. Ideally, testing could be used to check not only everyone who has symptoms but also their close contacts, so they could be identified as infected, isolated or quarantined as well.

We have a popular article about Coronavirus in Colombia that is updated daily including the count of coronavirus tests done in Colombia. So, we will continue to watch to see how effective Colombia is in its COVID-19 testing and see how quickly the count of tests in Colombia increases.

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Editors note: updated on October 18, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 19, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 20, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 21, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 22, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 23, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

Editors note: updated on October 24, 2020 with current COVID-19 testing numbers in Colombia and updated tables in the article.

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