Amid flak, DOH defends new COVID-19 tally system
The Department of Health (DOH) appealed to the public on Friday to “trust the experts,” as the agency again drew criticism after reporting a surge in recovered COVID-19 cases.
In her latest update, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said “we have enough evidence that even the WHO and other reputable agencies across the world [are saying] that as long as a person’s symptoms have been resolved and it has been 10 days already since the date of onset of illness, he is already noninfectious.”
“That is our basis on our protocols that we are now implementing,” she said.
On May 27, the WHO updated its criteria for discharging COVID-19 patients without requiring retesting.
According to the new criteria, symptomatic patients can be released from isolation either 10 days after symptom onset or three more days from that time if the patient has no fever and other symptoms.
This was updated from the initial recommendation in January requiring a recovered patient to have two negative swab tests taken at least 24 hours apart, prior to being discharged.
The updated criteria reflect recent findings that while patients may still test positive for many weeks, they are not likely to be infectious, the WHO said in a paper.
It was also in late May that the DOH issued Department Memorandum No. 2020-0258 stating that repeat testing was no longer required and that a patient deemed asymptomatic for up to 14 days can be classified as a recovered case.
In a briefing earlier on Friday, WHO Health Emergencies Program technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove affirmed that just because someone still tests positive “doesn’t necessarily mean they’re infectious [and] that they can transmit the virus to others.”
“What we know so far is that for mild patients, there are studies that have shown that someone can transmit the virus for up to eight days, maybe nine days, but they don’t identify live virus after nine days or so,” she said.
Explaining the 38,075 new recoveries that the DOH reported on Thursday, Vergeire said “we made sure that the severe and critical cases are not included [in the mass tagging]. We made sure also that we were able to revalidate the deaths.”
Some senators criticized the DOH for the sudden rise in recovered cases.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said doctors should be treating patients and not “doctoring” data on the pandemic.
“Unless we are hiding something, we owe it to the Filipinos to be transparent and to allow the COVID-19 data to speak for itself, and from there plan our course of action in fighting the pandemic,” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said “While there has been no mass testing yet, there’s already ‘mass recovery.’”
‘Reality cannot be altered’
“Data is vital. We will not be able to respond if we do not have a clear picture of the problem,” the opposition senator said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said “truth is as important as testing, tracing and treatment in fighting the pandemic. Reality cannot be altered by changing the formula just to arrive at a certain conclusion.”
However, Sen. Sonny Angara, a COVID-19 survivor, gave the DOH the benefit of the doubt.
“Let’s observe the trend over the next few days before a rush to judgment based on one day results,” he said.
Vergeire said “we have to believe the experts. If we are not going to believe in our experts, to whom should we believe? We would no longer have a scientific basis if we do not believe.”
She added: “Reporting is speeding up now because there is strengthened coordination between local governments, regions and us, and we also have the COVIDKaya [tracker system]. But even if we’re already automated, there are still insufficient details in the case investigation forms, like some reporting units do not update the forms for the outcome of the patient.”
For example, a patient who tested positive July 1 should have a case update or resolution by July 14, Vergeire said.
“But most often than not [the reporting units] are unable to do this. So this leads to the piling up of mild and asymptomatic patients without outcomes,” she said.
On Friday, the DOH saw a new all-time high as it recorded an additional 4,063 cases, pushing the national tally to 93,354.
Of the new cases submitted by 74 of the 91 accredited laboratories, Metro Manila had the most cases at 2,267, followed by Cebu (654), Laguna (200), Rizal (123) and Cavite (117).
The total number of recovered patients increased to 65,178 with the recovery of 165 more patients.
The death toll, however, breached the 2,000 mark as 40 patients succumbed to the severe respiratory disease. There are now a total of 2,023 patients who have died from COVID-19.
Of the newly reported deaths, 27 died this month, seven in April, and two each in March, May and June. Thirteen of the fatalities were from Metro Manila, 12 from Central Visayas, seven from Central Luzon, two each from Calabarzon, Western Visayas and Davao, and one each from Mimaropa and Zamboanga. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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