MANILA—The isolation period for the general population will be shortened to 7 days for vaccinated individuals and 10 days for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated persons who are probable, mild, and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.
This developed after the isolation period for healthcare workers was shortened to mitigate a medical workforce decimated by increasing coronavirus cases in its ranks.
"The updated recommendations was deemed necessary because the difference in guidelines for quarantine of isolation of travelers, the general public, and specific sectors like healthcare workers have been causing confusion on the ground," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual town hall.
Changes in isolation guidelines will take effect once the DOH has released a policy issue while the updated testing guidelines are being discussed with other agencies.
It was not clear as of posting time how soon the new policy would take effect. Pandemic policies are normally approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force before they are enforced.
The DOH is set to present the guidelines to the Inter-Agency Task Force for alignment with other agencies prior to releasing a policy issue, Vergeire told ABS-CBN News.
People with a moderate case of COVID-19 will be isolated for 10 days from the onset of symptoms regardless of vaccination status while those with severe and critical symptoms must isolate for 21 days, whether they are vaccinated or not.
Meanwhile, immunocompromised individuals must isolate for 21 days from the onset of symptoms and present a negative RT-PCR test after isolation.
Vaccinated and asymptomatic people who have been exposed and have had close contact with a COVID-19 case will be isolated for only 5 days, 2 days shorter than the previous requirement.
If they are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and have been exposed to a COVID-19 case, they will be isolated for 14 days.
Healthcare workers who have been exposed, meanwhile, will only need to isolate for 5 days, or shorter, depending on the risk assessment of their hospital or health facility.
Counting for the updated isolation period guideline begins on the first day of the onset of symptoms.
"We want to count our number of days of isolation from day the symptoms started because we recognize that there are instances testing is delayed, so kung gagamitin na date ’yung sample collection, at 5 araw matapos magka-sintomas ang tao bago bibilangin ang isolation, lumagpas na rin sa period kung kailan nakakahawa s’ya," said Dr. Anna Ong-Lim of the Technical Advisory Group Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
(If we use the date of the sample collection and, for example, 5 days have already passed before results came out, they would have already passed the time they are infectious.)
Meanwhile, testing will no longer be required unless symptoms develop.
Individuals under the A1, A2 and A3 categories — or healthcare workers, senior citizens, and the immunocompromised — will be prioritized for testing so they can get medications within the first 5 days of exhibiting symptoms.
On the community level, isolation will be prioritized, and symptom monitoring is recommended instead of testing.
"Should testing be used, tests should be done at least 5 days from day of exposure. Testing should not be done to screen asymptomatic individuals," Vergeire said.
Following the change in testing guidelines, the DOH said workplace leave credits can be granted with doctor’s and local government unit certificates declaring an individual a “probable COVID-19 case”, in place of RT-PCR test results.
PhilHealth reimbursements will also be adjusted to reflect the changes, and will disincentivize hospital admissions for asymptomatic and mild cases.
The DOH will also focus less on overall COVID case count, but maintain reports for severe and critical cases, and health systems capacities.
"We plan to reduce emphasis on case numbers in the endemic scenario, we plan to gradually shift from counting and reporting total case numbers to just reporting severe and critical cases and health systems capacities," Vergeire said.
Contact tracers in communities will also expand their responsibilities.
"Contact-tracer roles will be expanded to implement community health actions such as monitoring quarantine and isolation cases, implementation of minimum health standards, assisting in vaccination, assisting in health promotion, and other non-COVID health related ways," she added.
The DOH said the benefits of updating these guidelines outweigh the risks in the context of the presence of omicron.
It referred to a study by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases Control and Prevention Center saying that the viral and infectious load from samples is highest 3 to 6 days from diagnosis and has been observed to decrease on the 10th day from the onset of symptoms.
"The viral RNA from respiratory samples was highest 3 to 6 days after diagnosis or symptom onset, and is observed to have decreased after 10 days from diagnosis or symptom onset," Vergeire said. "Findings show that vaccinated and asymptomatic or mild cases are likely to shed infectious virus 10 days after the diagnosis or symptom onset."
But with the knowledge that delta is still around, the DOH clarified that the updated guidelines provide enough precaution against the more severe variant.
"If you are already fully vaccinated, we already made this stipulation that it’s an extra layer in terms of decreasing the amount of virus you are shedding," infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvaña said, adding that patterns of transmission were similar to those in the United States where omicron has been widespread.
"Based on those patterns plus the fact that we already have these extra layers, I think the current measures are reasonable. If it’s omicron we’re good, kung may ilang delta d’yan (if there are some delta cases), we’re only doing the shortened quarantine isolation for the vaccinated so we have an extra layer."
The DOH will also soon launch the KIRA (Katuwang na Impormasyon para sa Responsableng Aksyon) Chatbot, where Filipinos can submit anonymous positive antigen test results that can help the agency track positive results from antigen kits.
"So we can somehow get the sense kung ilan ang antigen positive sa komunindad (how many antigen tests are getting positive results in the community). In the coming days, we will be issuing this out, our community, individuals at home, who are using antigen tests can also help government so we can have these numbers for antigen tests," Vergeire said.
This developed after the FDA has opened applications for certification on self-administered and home COVID-19 test kits.
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