PH logs 3.4 pct COVID positivity rate, 3rd lowest since April last year

Wena Cos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 18 2021 07:27 PM | Updated as of Nov 18 2021 07:51 PM

Members of the Quezon City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance conduct COVID-19 swab testing for residents along Dupax Street in Barangay Old Balara on May 31, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Members of the Quezon City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance conduct COVID-19 swab testing for residents along Dupax Street in Barangay Old Balara on May 31, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The 3.4 percent COVID-19 positivity rate in the country announced Thursday by the Department of Health is the third lowest since testing data were made available starting April last year, according to the ABS-CBN Data Analytics Team.

Edson Guido, who heads the team, said that rate was for Tuesday, during which 42,043 individuals were screened for the coronavirus that has infected more than 2.82 million already in the country.

He noted that the country's positivity rate reported during each of the the last five days was also below 5 percent, ranging from 3.2 percent (announced on Nov. 16, which is the country's second lowest) to 4.5 percent (announced on Nov. 15). As with the positivity rate announced Thursday, these testing data are also two days behind.

The DOH announced a 5.5 percent positivity rate last Nov. 12.

The World Health Organization's benchmark for positivity rate is 5 percent or lower for at least two weeks. A relatively high rate means more people should be tested for the coronavirus.

Guido said the Philippines has never recorded a positivity rate below 5 percent for 14 consecutive days since the DOH started releasing such data.

The lowest positivity rate that the DOH recorded is 1.2 percent, on April 5, 2020.

The highest is 29.5 percent, recorded on Sept. 7 this year when the country saw another surge in infections, said Guido.

The widening vaccination coverage in the country has been cited as among main reasons for the decline in new cases observed since October.

So far, more than 32.5 million people in the country are already fully vaccinated against COVID-19, based on government data monitored by the ABS-CBN IRG. Some 40.1 million others have received their first dose.

The government is aiming to fully inoculate around 77.1 million people for the country to achieve herd immunity against the respiratory disease.

Health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon also attributed the country's improving situation to larger cities implementing stricter rules against COVID-19.

"Fifty percent of the molecular labs are in NCR. So all the more na dito nagagamit. Kaya mababa ang positivity rate natin. Nahahatak, nada-dilute ang buong sistema... In those peripheral areas, dapat intensified pa ang surveillance and testing, plus ang vaccination rate."

(Fifty percent of the molecular labs of the country are in the National Capital Region. So naturally, testing is high here. And so, the national positivity rate is pulled down by the results in the NCR... But surveillance, testing, and vaccination should be intensified in peripheral areas.)

Currently, Catanduanes is the only province in the country that under COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

According to Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua, this is largely due to the high ICU utilization rate in the province. 

"Mataas ang hospital bed at ICU utilization dahil limited ang referral hospital na nasa Catanduanes - isang provincial ospital at dalawang maliit na private. Sa ngayon, we have 82% utilization ng hospital."

(We have a high hospital bed and ICU utilization rate because of our limited referral hospitals in Catanduanes. We only have a provincial hospital and two small private hospitals. Right now, our hospital utilization rate is at 82%.)

Vaccination rate is also low in the province, with only over 65,000 or 24 percent of its population fully vaccinated, far from 50 percent of an area's total population recommended by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr.

Meanwhile, Baguio City, Siquijor, Batanes, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, and Zamboanga are under Alert Level 3 until the end of the month. 

In the NCR, where residents are enjoying the easing of restrictions after it was placed under Alert Level 2, a decline in new infections is also observed. Quezon City is leading the localities in terms of new cases, with 90, followed by Manila, which logged 62.

Dr. Rolly Cruz of the Quezon City Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit noted though that the DOH has problem in data extraction, saying, "Almost half of the case na na-report nila ay backlogs... Meaning late result noon, meron pang September, October, August. Kalahati lang ang totoong cases."

(Almost half of the reported 90 cases ae backlogs, including those from September, October, and even August... Only half of the reported cases are current.)

"[Ang] average daily case na totoo ay 60. Doon sa 90, 40 lang ang totoong kaso," he added.

(The real average daily new cases is 60. Of the 90, only 40 are current cases.)

Still, data published by the DOH are reliable, as far as OCTA Research is concerned, the group said.

"Ang datos, hindi perpekto. Kaya ang tingin lagi ay 7 days or two weeks. Tinitignan rin ang datos sa LGU. Nakikita naman ng DOH, ma-o-observe natin sa ospital, kumonti ang kaso at na-free up ang ICU capacity," said Ranjit Rye of OCTA Research.

(The data is not perfect, which is why we take into account data across seven days or two weeks. We also look closely at data from local government units. But there is also a general observation that hospitals are less crowded, and ICUs are not full.)

OCTA reminded that minimum health standards need to be maintained, especially so that the country can avoid a surge that is happening now in Europe despite having a large part of its population vaccinated. 

The research group's Guido David said what is happening now in Europe is mainly because residents have stopped following the mandate to keep wearing masks.

Rye said the worst thing the Philippines and Filipinos can do is to be overconfident, reiterating that the virus is still around.

OCTA said that if the downward trend continues, the country may record daily COVID cases as low as 500 in December.

Some lawmakers have criticized OCTA over the accuracy of its COVID-19 projections. The research group said it uses data from the health department.

- with reports from Zyann Ambrosio, ABS-CBN News

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