DOH reminds LGUs: Repeat PCR tests not needed for recovered COVID-19 patients

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2020 04:20 PM

MANILA — Local government units will have to comply with COVID-19 recovery guidelines, including not requiring repeat testing, to help decongest hospitals and quarantine facilities, the Department of Health said on Monday. 

“The challenge would be the resistance of local government units ngayon na ipatupad itong sinasabi nating rule in recoveries,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters during a virtual forum. 

(The challenge would be the resistance of local government units now that we are implementing the rule on recoveries.)

“We understand naman talagang gusto nila sigurado sila bago nila ma-reintegrate ang mga individuals sa kanilang community. But they have to follow,” she added.

(We understand that they want to make sure before they reintegrate these individuals in the community. But they have to follow.)

Vergeire said this in response to reports that some LGUs are still requiring patients to get a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to be declared as recovered.

“They are putting so much burden on the patients already,” she said, pointing out that a patient will end up being unnecessarily quarantined as long as he or she tests positive for COVID-19.

She said this is the reason why the government is having a hard time decongesting hospitals and temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.

“If they are not going to follow, talagang hindi na maaayos ang health system natin na capacity (our health system capacity won’t improve),” she added. “That is one of the things that has to be [understood and accepted by] local governments.”

Back in June, the DOH updated its guidelines, stating that a patient no longer needs a negative test result to be considered recovered. Instead, the patient only needs a doctor’s clearance showing that he or she is no longer symptomatic and was able to finish the required 14-day quarantine.

The guideline is based on the World Health Organization as well. 

However, it was only widely known in July after the DOH declared that 38,000 patients recovered from the disease in a single day. 

While the data reconciliation efforts of the DOH has caused confusion among the public, the WHO confirmed to ABS-CBN News then that it was indeed part of their updated protocols.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe told ABS-CBN News on July 31 that they changed their protocol in late May after seeing that many recovered patients were still testing positive for COVID-19.

Abeyasinghe said it was causing delays in discharging patients and “putting pressure on the access to testing for other people showing signs and symptoms.”

He said that based on studies from various countries, PCR tests were just detecting “bits and pieces” of the COVID-19 virus that was no longer live or infectious in the recovered patients.

“The DOH also adopted the guideline,” he said. 

However, Abeyasinghe pointed out that many facilities in the Philippines still continued using PCR tests, resulting in a backlog of people who should have already been declared recovered.

Vergeire said that the PCR test can only confirm if a patient is infected with the virus, but it cannot check if a patient has already recovered.

Vergeire said on Monday that recovered patients will just have to practice minimum health standards once they return to the community. This includes wearing of face masks, physical distancing and proper hygiene, like frequent washing of hands.

Vergeire said they will have another set of town hall meetings to again explain the protocol to LGUs.