THE Department of Health yesterday said it is looking to decongest hospitals by as much as 40 percent by having mild and asymptomatic coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients transferred to other facilities.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said an assessment of medical facilities and hospitals showed that about 40 percent of those admitted are mild and asymptomatic cases.
“We have analyzed that if we can remove the mild and asymptomatic (cases) from the hospitals, we can have at least 30 to 40 percent additional beds available,” said Vergeire.
“We will extract them now from hospitals and bring them to quarantine facilities… All of these we will do this week,” she added.
To complement the decongestion, the DOH will open more temporary treatment and monitoring facilities in Metro Manila in coordination with local government units.
“We were able to identify where we can have additional 257 beds to do isolation of patients,” Vergeire said.
She also said school buildings are being tapped to serve as additional quarantine centers.
“The Department of Education has already approved to open schools in the NCR as quarantine facilities,” she said.
Vergeire said for hotels have also been tapped “where we will transfer healthcare workers that are mild and asymptomatic, so we can further decongest our hospitals.”
The DOH is also looking at reducing the number of people with COVID-19 symptoms who are headed to hospitals, by setting setting up triage areas in every local government unit (LGU) “so that people will know where to go and be able to talk to health officials when they experience symptoms.”
“This is a layer we are trying to include into the structure. This will make our process more organized,” she added.
Under the local triaging system, local health officials will conduct an initial check on patients before they are sent to a facility.
“This will be a midway process, where patients will be assessed by LGU medical personnel.
They will then be the ones to direct if patients need to go to quarantine or hospital facilities,” she said.
Vergeire said each triage area will have an available ambulance. Those who need to be brought to a hospital will be referred to the One Hospital Command.
Vergeire also said each facility must establish hotlines so that patients may have the option to just call for an assessment.
“We will start this in the NCR now. Eventually, we need to have this in the entire country,” she said.
The DOH has approved the use of saliva-based testing for COVID-19 by accredited COVID-19 laboratories.
Before this, only laboratories of the Philippine Red Cross can administer the saliva test.
Vergeire said the DOH has issued guidelines for the laboratories.
Based on Department Memorandum No. 2021-0161, the DOH said saliva-based testing can be used as alternative to the nasopharyngeal swab (NPS) and oropharyngeal swab (OPS).
Saliva-based test uses the same system and machine as that of NPS and OPS samples, with the only difference being the method of collection of the sample specimen. Instead of a swab inserted into one’s nostrils and throat, individuals are simply required to deposit 1.5 ml to 2 ml of saliva through a straw into a container.
The DOH approved the PRC’s application of the use of saliva testing to detect COVID-19 cases last January.
“Collection of saliva specimens has several advantages over NPS and OPS, such as convenience to patients, case of collection, economical, and non-invasive nature of collection,” said the DOH.
“The use of saliva can potentially reduce the time and cost for testing, and also minimizing the risk of exposure and transmission of the virus to healthcare workers,” it added.
Among the guidelines, the DOH said, is that the Food and Drug Administration must issue a special certification for the saliva-based test kits to be used by testing laboratories
It also said the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and its recognized laboratories must perform kit validation in compliance to FDA requirements.
Saliva-based RT-PCR tests, it added, must be performed only by licensed COVID-19 laboratories using RT-PCR detection kits issued special certification by FDA.
In the same memorandum, the DOH directed the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to create a benefit package for saliva-based testing.
“No additional payment shall be charged to patients beyond the PhilHealth coverage for the conduct of saliva-based RT-PCR testing,” it said.
The PRC charges P2,000, which is almost half the price of a traditional swab test, for every saliva-based test.