MANILA -- New Department of Health (DOH) guidelines now allow the discharge of COVID-19 patients with no more symptoms after at least 10 days, based on studies showing evidence that they are no longer infectious after that period.
The revised "symptoms-based" approach is expected to increase the number of recoveries in the Philippines, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
Under the old system, patients were cleared only after 2 consecutive negative results using RT-PCR tests, a highly sensitive process that could detect traces of the coronavirus even if they were no longer infectious, she said.
"Hindi naman sasabihin ng RT-PCR sa'yo kung ang tao'y nakakapanghawa pa o hindi na. Ang sasabihin lang ng RT-PCR, nade-detect ko pa tung virus sa loob ng katawan mo," she said in an online press conference.
(The RT-PCR won't say if the person is infectious or not. It will say whether or not it can still detect the virus in the body.)
Vergeire explained the new protocol, saying: "As long as the patient does not exhibit symptoms at all, 3 days na, and naka-reach na rin sya ng 10th day nya nung sakit nya, maaari na syang i-clear ng kanyang physician na pwede na syang umuwi."
(As long as the patient does not exhibit symptoms at all, 3 days on, on the 10th day, the physician can clear the patient to go home.)
A new set of criteria released by the World Health Organization (WHO) says patients may be released 10 days after they first showed symptoms "plus at least 3 additional days without symptoms."
Asymptomatic patients may be cleared after 10 days after testing positive for the new coronavirus, the WHO said.
"With these updated guidelines, makaka-dagdag ito dun sa recoveries natin kasi nga hindi na natin kailangan hintayin magpa-test yung tao bago masabi natin na recovered sya," said Vergeire.
(With these updated guidelines, the number of recoveries will increase because we don't have to wait for a person to get tested before declaring that the person has recovered.)
As of Thursday, the Philippines had a total of 33,069 cases with 8,910 recoveries and 1,212 deaths. At least 22,947 cases were considered "active."
With the revised discharge protocol, Vergeire said the DOH was looking into the possibility of cutting the additional 14-day quarantine period to half.
At present, she said it usually took a month before a COVID-19 patient could be removed from the list of active cases, since another 2-week quarantine is required after his first 14 days in a hospital or quarantine facility.
"We all know now na 10 days pa lang, non-infectious na ang tao but still, we would want to be sure," she said.
The relatively low number of recoveries, she said, was partly the result of community health workers' failure to verify whether a big number of patients who opted for home quarantine had either recovered or died.
Vergeire said recovery cases would increase once data has been consolidated.