House-to-house COVID-19 testing pressed to get ‘true’ PH state

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MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) admitted on Wednesday that there was a need to expand testing for the coronavirus, including doing it house-to-house with help from local governments.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH was using every means to capture the true state of COVID-19 infections in the country and that the local governments were already doing the neighborhood tests of close contacts, both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases.

“We are ramping up although experts are saying we need to test more, and that is what we are trying to do,” Vergeire said.

The country has been reporting a higher positivity rate in the past weeks. On Wednesday, the DOH reported a positivity rate 19.5 percent for tests conducted on April 19, Monday, still high but markedly lower than the 24.2 percent on April 3.

DOH said 37,235 individuals were tested on Monday. Of those tested, 7,260 or nearly one in every five tested were positive.

Vergeire explained that the “high positivity rate” could mean the DOH was “not testing enough.”

“However, it can also be simply because there are many positive cases,” she said.

The government set a target of 50,000 nationwide tests daily in March 2020.

“Right now, we’re conducting between 30,000 to 50,000 tests per day all over the country. But the positivity rates for some regions are so high that the number of tests we are conducting are no longer enough,” Robredo said.

Code strategy

Vice President Leni Robredo urged the government to tests 90,000 individuals in Metro Manila alone when the national capital was under enhanced community quarantine.

The DOH has maintained that was impossible to test every Filipino, but the DOH is “trying to ramp up testing.”

“We can’t test everybody, so for NCR+, we use the Code strategy, we do house to house, we use rapid antigen when it is appropriate, and RT-PCR otherwise,” she said.

Code is short for Coordinate Operations to Defeat Epidemic, a protocol that actively searches for positive cases within the community using contact tracing. NCR+ refers to the National Capital Region and the four nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, which recorded the highest number of infections during the current surge in cases.

Vergeire confirmed that rapid antigen test kits had already been deployed and were being used by local governments to test those who have known exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case, or those with symptoms.

She said the DOH is still working on how it would present the data from rapid antigen tests in such a way that clearly differentiates them from positive cases found through RT-PCR tests, considered by the DOH as the “gold standard” in detecting the coronavirus.

‘Time based’ recoveries

Vergeire also confirmed that the DOH would employ daily logging of “time based” recoveries, as opposed to the previous weekly tallies.

Time-based recoveries assumes that COVID-19 patients who are mild or asymptomatic will recover, and thus will be tagged recoveries after completing a 14-day isolation period.

Previously, the DOH only included time-based recoveries once a week.

But she said the weekly time based reporting of recoveries “has skewed our numbers, since it’s a one time uploading every seven days [regardless of when the patient was actually considered recovered],” she said.

But when asked why the number of recoveries remained high despite daily time based reporting, Vergeire said: “It’s because the cases are increasing, and most of the cases are mild and asymptomatic, so many will recover,” she said.

Case update

The DOH on Wednesday recorded 9,227 new COVID-19 cases in the country, bringing the total case count in the Philippines to 962,307.

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