GOVERNMENT is now requiring public disclosure of “personal information of patients positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to help its contact tracing efforts, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Sunday.
Details on what information and how the information will be released to the public have yet to be disclosed.
Nograles, concurrent spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said the new requirement is contained in the Joint Resolution No. 22 that was approved by the task force on April 8.
“The IATF adopts the policy of mandatory public disclosure of personal information relating to positive COVID-19 cases to enhance the contact-tracing efforts of the government,” he said.
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the IATF asked health facilities to secure the permission of patients first before making their identities public.
Nograles said Office of Civil Defense (OCD) will help in the conduct of contact-tracing activities. It will also enter into a data-sharing agreement with the Department of Health, in accordance with the Data Privacy Act which protects “the privacy of individuals while ensuring and regulating free flow of information.”
OCD Administrator Ricardo Jalad said officials are discussing OCD’s specific role in tracing people who got in contact with those who tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’re still ironing that out, our role in contact tracing… We may just be the coordinator,” said Jalad, who is also the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Jalad said local government units may not have the entire picture of the COVID-19 cases in their areas, thus the OCD was tapped for the contact-tracing mission.
“Barangays, local government units are generally aware of constituents who tested positive (for COVID-19). But there are instances where cases are only known to us (OCD) and the DOH,” said Jalad.
OCD and NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal said they are “finalizing the data-sharing agreement and procedure between the DOH and the OCD.”
NO CONCEALING OF COVID DEATHS
Nograles said government is satisfied with the way DOH is handling the COVID-19 situation and leading government’s efforts to contain its spread.
He echoed the DOH’s statement denying that the government has ordered information on COVID-19 related deaths withheld, following a social media post that a Metro Manila-based hospital was ordered to conceal its COVID-19 death toll.
The post also said the hospital has started to ask for donations of body bags as bodies of the coronavirus fatalities have been placed in the hospital hallways.
“We wish to respond to allegations that the government has given directives to suppress information regarding COVID-19 fatalities. Sa madaling salita, hindi po ito totoo. Naglabas po ng pahayag ang Department of Health na wala po silang ganitong utos sa ating mga ospital. Wala pong ganitong polisiya ang inyong pamahalaan (In other words, it is not true. The DOH has said it has no such order. The government has no policy like this),” Nograles said.
He said the information dissemination on COVID-19 would continue especially amid the spread of unsubstantiated claims.
“This outbreak concerns all of us, so we recognize that it is our responsibility to give you the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts. You deserve nothing less. Kaya po, uulitin po namin na mag-ingat po tayo sa mga balita o chismis na fino-forward at pino-post (That’s why I will repeat, let us be careful about news or rumors that we forward or post),” he added.
Nograles reminded the public that the police have arrested and charged persons for allegedly spreading wrong information and “false news.”
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH is looking into claim made on social media regarding a hospital being ordered to stop counting COVID-19 deaths.
“This is a serious accusation. And it is the priority of the government that no omission of information are happening. Our aim is to share complete, correct, and verified information only,” she said.
“It is already being investigated as to where such an information came from,” she added.
Vergeire is referring to the claims made by broadcast journalist Arnold Clavio in a social media post, which went viral last Saturday.
According to Clavio, a Metro Manila hospital was given instructions to conceal its COVID-19 death toll.
The DOH has said it has never issued any order to stop the census or reporting of deaths, or any case related to COVID-19, to any health facility.
“All hospitals and health centers are mandated to report on consultations and/or admissions and the status thereof, that fit the COVID-19 case definitions,” said the DOH on Saturday.
CREMATION WITHIN 12 HOURS
Nograles reminded hospitals and local government units to cremate bodies of COVID-19 fatalities within the prescribed 12 hours, regardless if fees have been paid or documents are still being processed.
He said the Cabinet learned that some bodies have not been cremated because of unsettled fees and the lack of documents like death certificates.
He said the bottom line is that the 12-hour rule on cremation should be followed.
Vergeire said the DOH is discussing with hospital administrators and other government agencies scenarios like facilities being unable to handle COVID-19 cadavers.
“Different government agencies are already preparing facilities, such as mobile freezers, to help our hospitals in the event that they exceed their respective (cadaver) capacities,” said Vergeire.
She said the DOH has asked local government units and the Department of Interior and Local Government to help in the management of bodies.
“The DILG is the one in charge of the management of the dead. Based on our meeting earlier, it will assign a focal person, who will coordinate concerns on the management, cremation, or other arrangements concerning the departed,” she said.
“Arrangements with LGUs and other stakeholders have been made for the speedy transport and cremation/burial of cadavers, to contain any risk these may pose,” she added.
Asked if a mass burial is among the scenarios, she said, “We are not yet talking about mass burial because it is not yet necessary.”
“Currently, our hospitals have the capacity to store cadavers in their respective morgues while arrangements are being made by their families,” she said.
As to the case of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) in Quezon City, Vergeire said its problem with the piling up of cadavers is being addressed.
She said the DOH-run medical facility has acquired a mobile freezer for the unclaimed bodies.
“EAMC disclosed that it has long been looking for a mobile freezer to accommodate the bodies to be claimed, be it a COVID-19 case or not. Its delivery yesterday will help resolve the limited space in its mortuary,” said Vergeire.
Additional body bags, she added, were received by EAMC Hospital Director Dr. Alfonso Nuñez Sunday.
Vergeire also said the Quezon City Council has been tasked to manage any unclaimed body and shoulder the cost of cremation, if funding from next of kin is unavailable. — With Gerard Naval and Victor Reyes