‘No retests necessary on recovering patients’

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    THE Department of Health (DOH) yesterday assailed the stubbornness of some local government units (LGUs) to insist on retesting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients before they are tagged as “recovered” and allowed to be reintegrated in their communities.

    In a virtual press briefing, Health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reiterated the prevailing DOH protocol that no retests are necessary in declaring an individual as having recovered from COVID-19.

    “It is not really on not being informed. But the challenge would be the resistance of LGUs to implement our rule on recoveries,” said Vergeire, adding: “What is really necessary is for our protocol to be accepted and implemented by those on the ground. Hopefully, our local governments will heed our call.”

    Under the latest protocol on tagging recoveries, those with mild symptoms as well as asymptomatic patients can already be considered as having recovered from COVID-19 after 14 days from the date they had their symptoms or from the date their specimen was collected, respectively.

    In the old protocol, the DOH requires patients to be tested negative of COVID-19 twice before they are tagged as recovered.

    Vergeire said failure to adhere to prevailing protocols carries numerous disadvantages, one of which is on the burden it provides to the patients.

    “They are already putting too much burden on the patients. Imagine, a patient undergoes quarantine for 14 days then is tested positive again. He has to undergo another 14 days of quarantine when experts already said they are no longer infectious,” said Vergeire.

    Another effect, she said, is that it prevents hospitals and temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMFs) from discharging recovered patients.

    “It is also one of the reasons why we cannot decongest hospitals and TTMFs. If we are not going to follow, then we cannot fix our health system,” said Vergeire.

    The health official likewise noted how doing retests is a waste of valuable resources, particularly reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits.

    “Repeating the RT-PCR tests just to see if they are negative? Just use them to test other patients in real need of it,” said Vergeire.

    NON-COMPLIANT LABS

    Aside from stubborn LGUs, the DOH also called out accredited laboratories for refusing to comply with the required format in submitting COVID-19 test results.

    Vergeire pointed how only about 70 of the 100 accredited laboratories nationwide have been compliant with the requirements to use the COVID-19 Data Repository System (CDRS) as well as the COVID Kaya system.

    “Until now, we can see in our daily reports that only 70 plus laboratories are compliant to the submission,” she said.

    “We are still challenged with the reports that we are getting. Many are incomplete. Many of them don’t use the CDRS and COVID Kaya and still prefer submitting emails,” she added.

    She said non-compliance to the reporting system makes it difficult for them to fully eliminate backlogs. “That is a challenge because we source the number of positive individuals from their lists,” said Vergeire.

    Because of this, the DOH official said they are already set to issue a memorandum informing all licensed laboratories on the stricter implementation of the reporting requirements.

    “We will be issuing a memo to all concerned laboratories. They will be informed that this is part of their licensing requirements, and of the law on notifiable diseases. We will be more strict so we can get complete information,” she said.

    Failure to do so, she said, may result to them losing their licenses to operate.

    “If you are a licensed laboratory or hospital, it will always be their licenses at stake. If they will not be compliant, there will be some form of warnings, and then may be suspensions, and other sanctions that we can impose,” said Vergeire.

    DOH data shows that there are currently 76 licensed RT-PCR laboratories and 24 licensed GeneXpert laboratories nationwide.

    SLOW CONTACT TRACING

    Vice President Leni Robredo said the DOH needs to step up its contact tracing efforts since some patients are being reached only after they have already recovered from the disease.
    Robredo cited the case of her friend, a Pasay City doctor who was contacted by health officers months after recovering from COVID-19.

    She said the doctor was infected last April, was hospitalized for three weeks and was able to return to duty last May.

    “Gumaling na siya. In fact, nagdu-duty ulit siya. The other day, nag-post siya sa Facebook. Nagko-contact sa kaniya iyong DOH. Hinihingi pa lang sa kaniya iyong details. E ang tagal-tagal niya nang gumaling (She has already recovered. In fact, she’s back on duty. The other day, the DOH called her up, doing contact tracing. They were asking for details only now, long after she was able to recover),” Robredo said on her radio program Biserbisyong Leni aired over RMN-DZXL last Sunday.

    The government hired 73,300 new contact tracers last month and is now in the process of hiring more to augment teams that have been formed to trace people infected or have been exposed to COVID-19 patients.

    More workers will be hired under the government’s contact tracing efforts once the proposed Bayanihan 2 law, which provides the legislative base for the funding for the hiring and training of contact tracers, is signed into law.

    The Vice President said her friend is wondering why it took the DOH months to contact her when they have her personal details.

    To avoid this, she said an efficient data gathering is needed under a computerized pandemic control platform because it will be difficult to do everything manually and it is prone to error.

    For instance, she said returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were tagged as having been exposed to a COVID case or those tagged after testing positive for the virus can be given QR codes which will give the government online access to their personal data for quick contact tracing and monitoring.

    ‘WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?’

    Robredo also scored the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) for allegedly being too slow to act on the proposal to adopt an online platform for contact tracing which can be done through various mobile apps.

    “April 22 pa may recommendation na sila (IATF) na magkaroon—recommendation kung paano i-manage iyong coronovirus disease? (The IATF had a recommendation as early as April 22 to manage the coronavirus disease),” she said. “August na ngayon e. So iyong tanong ko, ano iyong nakakatagal (It’s now August. So my question is what’s taking them too long?).”

    As early as April, contact tracing apps like the one from StaySafe.ph, Kontra COVID, RC143 of the Philippine Red Cross, COVID Kaya, Tanod COVID, COVID CLEAR were being offered by private groups but the IATF continues to dilly-dally, the Vice President said.

    “Hanggang ngayon parang hindi pa din tayo nakaka-decide. Five months after, hindi pa tayo nakaka-decide kung alin na platform iyong gagamitin (Until now, we still haven’t decided. Five months later, we still haven’t decided which platform to use),” Robredo said.

    ON THEIR OWN

    Robredo said the indecisiveness of the IATF on the matter has forced LGUs to act on their own without guidance of the national government.

    She cited Baguio’s endcovid19.baguio.gov.ph, Cebu’s WeTrace, Carmona, Cavite’s Digital Contact Tracer, Tacloban City’s COVID-19 Scan System and Iloilo City’s QVID.

    The Vice President also cited Singapore’s Trace Together mobile phone app and its Trace Together tokens which were distributed to the public to warn its holder of COVID cases wherever he goes.

    “Sana madaliin natin, kasi ang laking bagay sana na gamitin natin iyong technology para maiwasan itong kahirapang mag-validate, para maiwasan iyong napakaraming discrepancy (I hope that we do it quickly because the use of technology will greatly help in validating and avoiding discrepancies),” Robredo said.

    Robredo noted that only 126,885 of the 159,676 who tested positive have been confirmed which means that more than 30,000 are possible carriers of the virus. – With Wendell Vigilia