DOH’s target? Limiting total COVID-19 cases to 12,000 by mid-May

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2020 04:56 PM

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the number of days it takes for domestic COVID-19 caseloads to double has now taken longer from 3 to 5 days, but that rate could be improved further. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — With the increase of new confirmed COVID-19 cases seemingly slowing down, the Department of Health said it is hoping the country will only have 12,000 cases by May 20.

In a televised briefing Tuesday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the number of days it takes for domestic COVID-19 caseloads to double has now taken longer, from 3 to 5 days.

But Vergeire said the ideal time frame should be 30 days.

“Ibig sabihin, kung kahapon April 20 6,000 ang kaso natin, dapat sa May 20, 12,000 pa lang ang kaso natin kung gusto natin na 30 days ang ating doubling time,” she said.

(It means that if on April 20 we had 6,000 cases, by May 20 there should only be 12,00 cases if we want our doubling time to be 30 days.)

During a DZMM interview Wednesday, the longer doubling time is a good indication.

“Magandang indikasyon dahil itong isinasagawa natin (na enhanced community quarantine) tingin ko nagkakaroon ng epekto,” she said.

(It’s a good indication that what we are doing, I think, is having an effect.)

Dr. Regina E. Estuar, project lead of a government-funded disease modeling application, also mentioned during an online briefing that it’s possible to limit the confirmed cases to 12,000 if the country’s health systems capacity is enough.

Estuar, a health IT researcher and professor at Ateneo de Manila University, is among the experts behind the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSSTER), which has been tapped by the government to make COVID-19 projections. 

FASSSTER uses data from the Department of Health and produces models not just for the national government but for specific localities, too.

She explained during the online briefing hosted by the DOST Philippine Council for Health Research and Development that, if the government did not declare an ECQ in Luzon during mid-March, the number of confirmed cases in the National Capital Region alone would have gone up to 2 million by June 21.

“Dahil sa ECQ na hanggang April 14, bumaba ang projection ng posibleng confirmed cases na halos kalahating milyon. Tumaas rin ang health systems capacity,” Estuar said. 

(Because of the ECQ that was supposed to be implemented until April 14, the projection of possible confirmed cases was reduced by half a million. The health systems capacity also increased.)

Estuar also explained the importance of expanding such a capacity.

“Kung tatanggalin ang ECQ ng April 30 at matataasan natin ang health systems capacity ng 40 percent, malaki ang pagbaba ng confirmed cases sa 12,000 na lamang. Hindi na makikita ’yung curve dito, medyo flat na,” she said. 

(If we remove the ECQ on April 30 and if we increase our health systems capacity by 40 percent, there will be a huge decrease in the confirmed cases to only 12,000. There is almost no curve, it is almost flat.)

Flattening the curve refers to slowing down an outbreak and make it more manageable. This includes community isolation measures, such as the Luzon lockdown imposed on March 16. Experts believe that by slowing the spread of a contagious disease such as COVID-19, the health sector will have enough time to manage cases, resulting in more lives saved.

While there has been talk about a “modified” lockdown after April 30, the government has yet to decide what happens on May 1 and thereafter. Officials said the President will likely announce his decision on April 23.

As of Tuesday, there have been 6,599 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Of this number, 654 have recovered and 437 have died.