DOH EXPANDS TESTING TO ASYMPTOMATIC SUBGROUPS

Press Release/6 June 2020

Now that the Philippines has reached an output of 10,000 tests per day, the Department of Health (DOH) has announced its plans to expand testing to include certain asymptomatic subgroups.

In the June 5 Beat COVID-19 Virtual Presser, Health Undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire, with infectious disease experts Dr. Benjamin Co and Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, discussed the department’s new direction in testing.

Ong-Lim, immediate past president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, explained that there will still be criteria for deciding which groups of the asymptomatic population should be tested in order to efficiently maximize the limited supply.

"Gusto natin na pag tayo ay nagtetest ay yung may malaki-laking tsansa na magpa-positive sila or di kaya kung mag-positive man ang tinest natin ay napakalaki yung pakinabang nung positive test na yun sa paggagamot o sa pagsusuporta sa kanilang kalusugan," Ong-Lim emphasized.

"So alin po yung mga gusto nating tukuyin? Unang-una ay yung mga walang sintomas pero nagkaroon ng close contacts sa mga nagkasakit," Ong-Lim explained. "Kasama dito ang mga kapamilya ng maysakit, mga kasamahan sa trabaho ng mga may sakit o di kaya ang mga health care workers na nagaalaga sa mga may sakit."

While testing is a vital part of the country’s overall strategy against the pandemic, expanded targeted testing together with other strategies such as prevention through increasing resilience, contact tracing, isolation, and treatment and management remains to be the ideal approach to quell the spread of the disease.

Co, an infectious diseases and clinical pharmocology expert, reported that the Philippines’ COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.2 percent  is below the World Health Organization’s 10 percent benchmark, is a good indicator that the country is sufficiently testing. The positivity rate shows what percentage of the population that has been tested turns out positive for the disease.

“There is a limit wherein yung value ng test maa-affect yung resources, yung kapasidad ng bansa. There is a certain number we can do, but as of now, we are testing enough,” said Co. “Sa mga bansa na gumagawa ng extensive tests, na less than 12 percent of their tests are positive, are doing fine. Sa datos natin, 7.2 percent lang ang positivity rate natin sa mga tests.”

Co also noted that the case fatality rate is within 4.8 percent, which will likely decrease further once testing is expanded.

It is also important to distinguish the difference between the positivity rate and the infectivity rate, explained Ong-Lim. “Hindi naman lahat nang na-positive, ay ibig sabihin nakakahawa na,” She furthere that some individuals who  recovered from COVID-19 may continue to test positive with Reverse-Transcription Polymerase-Chain-Reaction due to the sensitivity of the test towards the virus.

Ong-Lim further explained that tests may sometimes detect fragments or remnants of the virus that remain but this does not mean that the individual is still infectious.

Moreover, testing negative does not guarantee immunity, and people should remain cautious even after being screened. According to Co, “Hindi ibig sabihin 'pag natest na tayo at lumabas nang negative hindi na tayo magkakaroon ng COVID-19. One test does not mean we are immune for life.”

The Health Spokesperson also noted that it’s the first weekend since Metro Manila transitioned into a General Community Quarantine, and reiterated the importance of observing proper prevention measures.

“Alam naman natin kung gaano ka-excited ang ating mga kababayan na magsimba muli o mamasyal sa mall o kumain sa mga restaurant,” she said. “Karamihan sa mga lugar na ito ay ‘confined spaces’ na may tendency na umakit ng malaking crowd, kaya ang pagdagsa sa mga lugar na ito ay nagbabadya ng higher risk of exposure.”

Singh-Vergeire asked the public to continue the proper use of PPEs, physical distancing, and good hygiene should they find themselves outside. She also cautioned against going outside unless absolutely necessary, to minimize the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

“Dapat tayong magtulungan. Kung anuman ang ating ginagawa at kung paano natin ito ginagawa ay maiingatan natin ang ating sarili pati na rin ang ating mga mahal sa buhay,” she concluded.