The Department of Health (DOH) announced that it has cleared its backlog of COVID-19 cases for validation based on lists submitted by 28 licensed laboratories.
Since May 28, the DOH reformatted its case bulletin to indicate which of the newly validated cases are recent or “fresh” cases—referring to cases whose lab results were released within the last three days of the date of reporting—and which are “late” cases, referring to those with results released four days or more behind the date of reporting, but just recently validated due to delayed submissions from the laboratories.
While the DOH said the clearing of the backlog was a welcome development, it called on the remaining 14 of the 42 operational laboratories to submit their respective complete line lists, which contain all test results conducted since the beginning of their operation.
The DOH said it also expects all laboratories to send daily accomplishment reports on all tests completed for the day, which will be reported the following day. These reports will provide an accurate picture of the progress of cases as the country adjusts to a general community quarantine (GCQ).
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, urged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to set aside the planned hiring of contact tracers as an added measure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
He said the DOH should instead use the P11.7 billion budget for the hiring of 130,000 contact tracers for the treatment of persons with COVID-19.
"It will be wiser and more practical to divert the P11.7 billion for the treatment of patients. We need funds to treat our sick countrymen," Sotto said.
Sotto said the budget would go to waste if it were spent hiring people who are not trained for the job.
"You cannot just deploy anyone to do the job. Contact tracing can only be effective if you use people who are trained in investigation like how they handled it in Baguio. If the DOH hires people who have no experience in investigation, then the program is practically useless," Sotto said.
Sotto said the DOH can coordinate their contact tracing efforts with other government agencies that have the experience and manpower to go around the country.
"The DOH does not need to hire new people to do contact tracing. It can coordinate with other government offices and tap displaced employees to carry out the task at no additional cost to the government," he said.
Duque told senators in one of the hearings of the Senate committee of the whole that the DOH needs P11.7 billion to fund contact tracing efforts against COVID-19. He said the department plans to hire 130,000 contact tracers for three months to cover a 1:800 ratio in the entire country.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, questioned the DOH practice of disaggregating cases in the reporting of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
"What is the basis for disaggregating cases and how does that affect our interpretation of flattening of the curve? Has the inter-agency task force (IATF) considered these figures in its decision to shift to general community quarantine?" he said.
Drilon also said there are several complaints not only from the public but also from laboratories themselves who are confused with the new classification of cases into "fresh" and "late" cases.
"If the DOH could not provide logical explanations for this, except for putting the blame on laboratories, then there is a reason to believe that it is underreporting COVID-19 cases. That is not only counter-productive because hiding the real data could be fatal," Drilon said, as he cited the differences between the way South Korea and China reported their COVID-19 cases.
DOH reported on Sunday 862 new infection, 16 fresh cases and 846 late cases bringing the total to 18,086.
"The experiences all over the world show that a great deal of transparency spells a huge difference in winning the battle against this pandemic," said Drilon.
"They likewise tell us that hiding the truth would only make things worse. One may learn a thing or two about transparency in the way South Korea and China handle the pandemic."
"South Korea has showed transparency since day one. They did not hide the real data from their people. They dealt with the pandemic with complete transparency and because of this, coupled with the government's decisiveness, they are able to contain the virus," Drilon said.
This was not the case in China, Drilon said. "On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the China experience has shown that the lack of transparency could be fatal," he stressed.
"Honesty is the best policy here. Manipulating the data will not bring us anywhere,” he said.
Drilon also said it is becoming a habit of the DOH to use hospitals and laboratories as scapegoats, whenever it is criticized for its shortcomings.
He said it is unfair for hospitals and laboratories to always take the blame for DOH.
"They are being thrown under the bus. The DOH claims that the laboratories report to them late, but I have received reports that their turnaround time is actually good," Drilon said.
"Where is the bottleneck in the reporting of cases that results in 'late' cases? Is it really the laboratories reporting late or DOH unable to validate the cases in a timely manner?" he said
In other developments:
* The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) on Monday demanded additional hazard pay and special risk allowance for all frontline health workers including nurses in both public and private health facilities during this COVID-19 pandemic distinct from and on top of the hazard pay provided for under the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers (Republic Act 7305). In a statement, Maristela Abenojar, president of the group Filipino Nurses United, said the COVID hazard pay and one-time risk allowance set under Administrative Order No. 26 and No. 28 are neither commensurate to the high risk faced by frontline health workers nor equitably determined among them.
* The fisherman's group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya (Pamalakaya) and the Anakpawis party-list slammed the government's new COVID-19 reporting method, saying the DOH was carrying out “mass deception” to depict a reduced spread of the virus.