The Philippine College of Physicians appealed to the Department of Health yesterday to reconsider its new policy shortening the quarantine period for fully vaccinated mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
PCP president Dr. Maricar Limpin said they support the reduced isolation period for fully-vaccinated healthcare workers, the same could not be implemented for the general public, including those who have mild symptoms or none at all.
Limpin said an infected person might still transmit the virus six to ten days from the onset of symptoms.
“For the shortening of the protocol, I think it should cover only healthcare workers and not the general public,” she said.
The DOH on Thursday defended its move to shorten the isolation and quarantine periods for people infected with COVID-19 but said this policy as well as new guidelines for testing were as yet not for implementation.
“The prolonged quarantine and isolation duration has been causing strain to our health care system and our economy,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said. “Our health experts believed, specifically in the Omicron variant, that the benefits of shortening the quarantine outweighs the risk.”
On Wednesday, Vergeire said the isolation period of fully vaccinated mild COVID-19 cases would be reduced from 10 days to seven days from the onset of symptoms.
The isolation period for fully vaccinated asymptomatic cases will be reduced from 10 to seven days from their positive swab test result.
“Ten days isolation is retained for those that are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, and those with moderate symptoms regardless of vaccination status,” Vergeire said.
Severe and critical cases would still need to isolate for 21 days, as did those who are immunocompromised, she added.
Vergeire said the quarantine period for fully vaccinated close contact of a COVID-19 patient would be shortened to five days from the previous seven days. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated close contacts must isolate for 14 days.
In her presentation, Vergeire said that testing of asymptomatic close contacts would also not be required unless symptoms developed.
“For health care workers that are considered asymptomatic close contacts, for the sake of uniformity they will follow the five days quarantine similar to the general public—provided they are fully vaccinated,” she said.
Vergeire said the prevention and control committees of hospitals could further shorten the health care workers’ quarantine with boosters, depending on the situations, risks, and benefits.
Vergeire said other countries too were updating their quarantine and isolation processes.
“While the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is the most aggressive example by bringing down their isolation and quarantine periods to five days, we also see other countries moving down from 14 to seven to 10 days,” she said.
“The updated policy of the Philippines attempts to find acceptable standards given our current context and allow more flexibility to groups and sectors that can strictly implement infection, prevention, and control procedures,” she added.
Vergeire said, however, that the new guidelines were not yet for implementation, but would be presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“We will issue the policy. Once [the] policy is issued, that’s the time it takes effect,” she said, adding that the policy was expected to be released on Thursday night.
“We know that the virus spreads fast and for the protection of our patients who are immunocompromised, so we did not follow the five days,” said NKTI executive director Dr. Rose Marie Rosete-Liquete.
“You will be quarantined for seven days and then get a swab test. Swab test is mandatory. So, seven days is the minimum,” she said.
Under the new guidelines, fully vaccinated health care workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic or have mild to moderate symptoms may be quarantined for at least five days.
Fully vaccinated health care workers exposed to COVID-19 cases need not undergo quarantine.
A total of 531 health care workers of NKTI have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of January, Rosete-Liquete said.
Of these, 90 are undergoing quarantine at a facility while 400 are undergoing home quarantine.
Meanwhile, the hospital has about 110 patients.
On the other hand, the Amang Rodriguez Medical Center (ARMC), medical chief Dr. Imelda Mateo said the hospital is considering shortening the quarantine to five days for the asymptomatic health care workers, but is still awaiting the final department circular.
“We really think there is an exigency of service and the workforce is compromised, especially in the frontline. We are considering shortening it to five days but that’s for the asymptomatic,” she said.
At present, the hospital has 167 COVID-positive health care workers.
ARMC has 130 admitted patients, of which 125 are positive for COVID-19 and five are suspected cases.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had earlier said the shortened isolation period for medical frontliners was discretionary.
Meanwhile, at least 24 health workers from different hospitals and facilities in Cebu City tested positive for COVID-19.
The city’s Emergency Operations Center said on Wednesday that 23 of them contracted the virus in their workplace. Two of the infected frontliners also had a travel history to Manila.
Cebu City has not yet recommended shortening the quarantine period for health workers infected as hospital bed utilization is still low.
Based on data from the Department of Health in Central Visayas, Cebu City’s bed capacity rate is at 30.8 percent, or only 210 out of over 600 beds only have been occupied.
“We can weather this as long as we unite in implementing the protocols,” said EOC head Joel Garganera.
Cebu City reported 169 new infections and a 26 percent positivity rate on Tuesday, the locality’s highest since August 2021, when a surge caused by the Delta variant hit the area.
Garganera also said that most of those who tested positive are in home isolation and are asymptomatic.