Are PH COVID-19 cases really declining? DOH points to lower testing figures, sees problem

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2021 01:52 PM | Updated as of May 08 2021 09:31 PM

Are PH COVID-19 cases really declining? DOH points to lower testing figures, sees problem 1
Members of the BCDA-Philippine Arena COVID Testing Team conduct tests for COVID-19 at the Melvin Jones Grandstand in Burnham Park, Baguio City on April 15, 2021, the first of a three-day community testing program. Jong Gasmena, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - The lower number of fresh COVID-19 cases being reported in recent weeks can be attributed to the fewer number of samples being received by accredited laboratories for testing, a health official said on Saturday. 

In a public briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they are observing the development, describing it as a "problem." 

"Nakita natin for the past week na bumababa po ang mga sample na pinapasa ng mga implementing units sa ating laboratoryo kaya nakikita po natin na bumababa rin ang mga kaso," explained Vergeire. 

(For the past week, the samples being passed to our implementing units are low, that's why our cases are also low.) 

"Ating pa rin pong inoobserbahan kung ito ay dala talaga ng pag-unti ng kaso o di lang po natin nate-test ang ating mga kababayan nang marami," she said. 

(We are still observing whether this is brought by the low number of cases or whether we haven't been testing enough)

Since April 18, the country has been logging less than 10,000 daily cases, but in some days, the DOH noted that this was due to the low number of samples being received by testing laboratories, fewer laboratories operating, or the low number of laboratories submitting data on time. 

She also noted that the number of people tested in the past week went down by 9 percent, from almost 374,000 between April 23 and April 29 to around 342,000 between April 30 and May 6. 

Vergeire, however, did not mention the ideal number of samples that the testing laboratories should be receiving daily. 

"Hindi [na] po sa pag-susubmit ng mga laboratoryo ang problema natin o issue sa pagtala ng mga mababang kaso for the past week, it's about the samples that are received by the laboratories," she said.

(The problem no longer lies in the failure of laboratories to submit on time, it is now on the fewer number of samples that are being received by laboratories.) 

Video courtesy of PTV

She added that while most laboratories are able to submit data "regularly," the agency is still monitoring whether the problem lies on the low number of samples submitted or the fewer people being tested in communities. 

"Nakakapag-submit na po sila ngayon ng regular araw-araw... kaya lang kung titingnan natin ang samples ng tine-test nila, ibig sabihin, the samples submitted to them para maproseso sa RT-PCR, bumaba na 'yon," according to the health official.

(They have been submitting regularly every day, but if we would look at the samples being tested, they are low.) 

"Kailangan po nating ma-analyze maigi if it's really pagbaba ng samples sa pag-submit is because mababa na po ang nakikita nating mga dapat i-test sa ating mga communities, or di lang talaga nate-test 'yung iba sa ating komunidad," she said. 

The ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team earlier noted that the slowdown in testing affects all data points such as the positivity rate, or the percentage of positive test results relative to the individuals tested. 

In an interview with Teleradyo on Friday, Data Analytics head Edson Guido said that based on recent data, there is an "improvement" with the country's COVID-19 situation. 

But Guido noted that while the country's positivity rate is declining, it is still remains high compared to the WHO's recommended 5 percent benchmark for at least 2 weeks.

As of Saturday, the country's positivity rate is at 14.3 percent based on the 50,122 samples tested for the disease on Thursday. 

He urged the government to have more testing done during the stricter lockdowns, so the public could get a more bigger picture of the country's coronavirus situation. 

The country has so far tallied over 1.094 million COVID-19 cases, more than 63,000 of whom are considered active infections. 

Nearly 18,300 on the other hand, have died due to the virus.