The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday announced that it is working with its licensed laboratories to speed up the submission of test results to ensure a more precise collation, validation, and reporting of COVID-19 data.
During the Beat COVID-19 virtual press conference, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire and public health epidemiologist Troy Gepte both said that as more tests are conducted daily, COVID-19 laboratories continue to be swamped with more samples to process.
While the DOH has also been conducting a mass hiring program which includes data encoders, testing laboratories have also been adapting and improving their ability to submit test results to the Department so that timely and accurate data may be released to the public.
“It’s difficult to validate the information; we’re doing all we can,” Gepte said in a mix of English and Filipino. “It’s a work in progress with the labs to report properly the data.”
As much as possible, Gepte said, they want to use the most recent data, but getting the information is not easy.
Much of the testing is still subject to a manual verification process and paper-based case information forms are still widely used, he said.
This makes case validation all the more critical to ensure that the publicly available data is accurate, Vergeire added.
Vergeire explained that the DOH can only start the validation process once the laboratories have submitted test results to them, but this puts a strain on the testing system. Fortunately, there are more laboratories being accredited, with 49 currently licensed and 130 with pending applications.
“When all our laboratories submit consistently their daily reports, and they use the COVIDKAYA application, only then can we do close to real-time information-sharing between laboratories and the DOH,” she added.
Both Vergeire and Gepte said this is why it is important to separately understand the fresh and late cases, because separately examining how the trend of the fresh cases progresses over time will provide a more accurate view of how the COVID-19 situation is evolving as the country adjusts to the General Community Quarantine.
The DOH said it recorded only three deaths Tuesday, the lowest number to date, and said key indicators showed that the COVID-19 situation was improving, as evidenced by the latest case doubling time for Metro Manila, which is at 6.41 days, and by the critical care utilization rate of only 33 percent for ICU beds and 19 percent for mechanical ventilators.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the total number of coronavirus-stricken overseas Filipinos rose to 5,218 after 34 more have contracted COVID-19.
Citing data as of June 1, DFA also said the number of Filipinos abroad who recovered climbed to 2,167 after 16 new recoveries, while patients undergoing treatment were recorded at 2,709.
On the other hand, the death toll also increased to 342 with three new fatalities.
According to the department, the Middle East/Africa recorded the highest number of Filipino COVID-19 infections at 3,252 with 1,317 recoveries, 100 deaths and 1,835 undergoing treatment.
Europe followed with 821 infections, including 259 recoveries, 90 deaths and 472 undergoing treatment.
The DFA noted that the Asia Pacific remained the region with the fewest number of cases at 489 with 351 recoveries, two fatalities and 136 undergoing treatment.
In the Americas, 656 Filipinos have contracted the illness, including 240 recoveries, 150 deaths and 266 undergoing treatment.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday asked the Department of Health to take a cue from two local government units in tracing persons with coronavirus disease.
"Simple technologies that we now take for granted may yet be the biggest help in fighting the spread of COVID-19, as shown by the initiatives of at least two local governments," Lacson said, citing the examples by the local governments in Carmona, Cavite and in Baguio City.
In Carmona, the local government under Mayor Roy Loyola has developed a contact tracing app– the Carmona COVID-19 Tracker. The app, which works on Android and iOS, can use the mobile phone's GPS to track users’ location history.
The app allows users to log interactions with other people; and do self-assessment if they experience symptoms. In just a few days of implementation, the local government has already signed up 42,000 out of the municipality's 97,557 residents. For those without smart phones, the local government's barangay and police personnel can input the information for them.
In Baguio City, the city government under Mayor Benjamin Magalong is doing contact tracing using the EndCovid-19 system, which relies on the geographical information system (GIS) platform to plot the areas where possible COVID-19 carriers live.
Combined with cognitive interviews and analytical tools, the system has made Baguio City a model for contact tracing, Lacson said.