MANILA — Expect more COVID-19 cases reported in the coming days as laboratories play catch-up because of the Department of Health’s (DOH) stricter requirements in test result submissions, an official said Wednesday.
“We may have an irregularly high number of cases in the coming days as cases from these laboratories get reported,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing after explaining the agency’s stricter submission requirements for laboratories.
“In the past months, we noted issues raised by the local governments that they cannot initiate contact-tracing because the COVID-19 database does not have the complete information, specifically addresses and contact details of patients,” she explained.
Because of this, starting Sept. 1, the DOH stopped accepting test results that did not include the complete address and phone number of the patient. This is based on DOH rules and an Inter-Agency Task Force advisory in August reminding disease reporting units (DRUs) to submit complete data on cases.
“This requires case investigation form to be filled out properly, and the laboratories to ensure that these are encoded,” Vergeire said. “The directive was given in August that effective September 1, whole address and contact numbers will be mandatory prior to uploading.”
The data must then be submitted to the DOH’s central system — COVIDKaya and the COVID-19 data repository system.
Vergeire said the online form cannot be submitted if the said details are not filled out.
“Majority of the laboratories complied, but not all of them. The names of those that have not been able to publish or submit were included in our daily case bulletins for these past days.”
She said this meant that “there are confirmed cases per day that have not been reported yet officially, and will come out this week.”
FEWER SUBMISSIONS, CONFIRMED CASES
A graph made by ABS-CBN Data Analytics Head Edson Guido shows how the number of lab submissions and confirmed cases steadily declined in the last 2 weeks.
While more than 90% of the laboratories were still able to submit on time by Sept. 2, compliance dropped to just over 80% in the first week of September. It reached 76.5% on Monday, Sept. 7, and 70.4% the following day.
This as daily testing for COVID-19 has plateaued around 35,000 per day.
Guido said the same average number of tests is still seen in recent weeks.
On Monday, 27 laboratories failed to submit their results on time (at 6 p.m. daily), with additional COVID-19 cases reported that day falling to just 1,383.
On Tuesday, the number of laboratories who failed to submit on time rose to 34, but the number of additional COVID-cases went up to 3,281.
Vergeire repeatedly said during Wednesday's briefing that they are expecting COVID-19 cases to continue to rise this week, although they plan to highlight which ones are late cases.
“We expect that this is a one-time occurrence, and laboratories have changed their processes to ensure those information are included in the reports provided by the Department of Health and their local government units,” she said.
Asked if sanctions are already given to the laboratories who failed to submit, Vergeire said they are giving them time to adjust.
“Kailangan bigyan sila ng konting panahon dahil nagbago tayo ng mandatory fields. We give them time para makapag-submit sila and makumpleto nila,” she said.
(We need to give them a bit of time because we changed the mandatory fields. We give them time so they can submit and complete their entries.)
Vergeire said they are already seeing laboratories that were not able to comply in the past, now being able to submit on time.
“Kapag next week, hindi pa rin nakikita ang completeness and timeliness ng submission, dito na tayo gagawa ng hakbang,” she said.
(If by next week, we still can’t see completeness and timeliness of submission, we’ll take action.)
Vergeire said this won’t affect their “optimistic view” of the declining trend in cases, “regardless of the delay in reporting.”
Starting Aug. 31, additional COVID-19 cases has stayed below the 4,000 level per day, and had even gone down to the 1,000 - 2,000 level in the past days, which led experts to say that there is a declining trend in cases although more observation is required.
“We remain cautiously optimistic that we are beginning to see the fruits of our response, especially here in the National Capital Region,” Vergeire said. The NCR is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
She said contact tracing efficiency has also increased. From just 45% of contacts traced in late August, it increased to 70% recently.
The ratio of contacts traced per patient also increased, from 1 patient is to 3 to 5 contacts, to 1 patient is to 4 to 10 contacts.
In August, though, Vergeire said that contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong suggested a ratio of 1 is to 37 for effective contact tracing.
Vergeire said that despite improvements in the COVID-19 response, the public should not be complacent and should continue practicing physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene, and the wearing of face masks.