MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) explained on Tuesday why several top officials and their families were able to access coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test kits even without symptoms amid reports that others are being turned down or made to wait by hospitals.
It was earlier reported that President Rodrigo Duterte and his family were tested for COVID-19 despite reportedly having no symptoms. The President tested negative for the disease.
Several senators also underwent testing after it was reported that a resource person at a legislative hearing tested positive for the disease. One of them, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri announced that he tested positive.
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay and Christopher "Bong" Go, meanwhile, tested negative.
Several cabinet members exposed to a COVID-19 patient at a March 5 road infrastructure event along with the President also got tested, all of whom were found negative of the virus.
“Nung mangyari ang mga test na ito, especially 'yung sa ating higher officials, hindi pa natin na-revise 'yung decision tool natin,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told DZMM.
(When the tests were done, especially those for our higher officials, we haven’t revised our decision tool yet.)
Vergeire explained that the Department of Health’s “decision tool” was recently revised to prioritize those who are most at risk — 60 years old and above, with underlying conditions and with severe symptoms.
She said the politicians who were tested were supposedly exposed to COVID-19 before the tool was revised.
“So they are under the criteria of PUI (patients under investigation),” she said.
Vergeire said the President also fits the profile of those from the vulnerable group who are prioritized for testing. Duterte is 74.
In the case of Zubiri, Vergeire said he reportedly showed symptoms at the start. Zubiri has said he has been asymptomatic, while Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the senator might need a retest to check if his diagnosis was a false positive.
Vergeire said the DOH started prioritizing those who are most at risk and those with severe symptoms when they confirmed that there is community transmission in the country.
She also asked people not to go to hospitals anymore if they just have mild symptoms.
“We just don’t want to further increase the risk of people being infected by going to the hospital,” she said, explaining that patients have to wait long for the testing.
“If you don’t have symptoms, don’t (attempt to get tested). Monitor it first,” she said.
There are now 187 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Of that number, six have recovered and 14 have died.