DOH aims for ‘zero backlog’ in COVID-19 testing

Bonz Magsambol

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DOH aims for ‘zero backlog’ in COVID-19 testing

'By tomorrow, we can start fresh with our laboratories,' Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says on Thursday, May 28

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) is aiming to clear its coronavirus testing backlogs by Thursday night, May 28. 

Mayroon tayong na (We have a target that) by tonight, we will be reducing these backlogs to zero,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual press briefing on Thursday morning. 

“By tomorrow, we can start fresh with our laboratories,” she added.

According to Vergeire, so far, they have been able to gradually decrease test backlogs from some 12,000 unvalidated tests from two weeks ago.

“We had almost 12,000 [backlogs] two weeks ago tapos unti-unti kumonti na siya. Noong Lunes, mayroon tayong 7,000 backlogs, tapos nababa natin ng 5,000 plus,” Vergeire explained. 

(We had almost 12,000 backlogs two weeks ago then it gradually decreased. On Monday, we had 7,000 backlogs, then we were able to decrease it to 5,000 plus.)

Vergeire said that as of Thursday, laboratories were able to further decrease the backlog to 3,683 unvalidated tests.

“These backlogs were discussed during our meeting with the laboratory staff last Sunday (May 24). We instructed them to reduce the backlogs in 2 to 3 days as ordered by the Office of the President,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Aside from the confirmed coronavirus cases reflected in the DOH’s COVID-19 tracker, the department also keeps a tally of positive cases – individuals who got a positive result in a coronavirus lab test but whose result still needs validation by the department.

This tally is not included in the number of confirmed cases announced by the DOH every day. The health department only includes positive cases to the country’s official tally on the day they are validated.

More cases explained

Vergeire also explained the apparent increase in the number of reported cases, saying this was due to the test results of overseas Filipino workers and cases from different areas in the country. 

She also added that the possible reason for the continued increase in cases is the additional encoders they hired to work on laboratory backlogs. 

Vergeire, however, noted that the data analytics team of the DOH is analyzing and verifying these possibilities.

“We’re still analyzing itong numero na ito para malaman natin ‘yung actual, kung ito ba ay talagang pagtaas or function lang talaga ng reporting,” Vergeire said. 

(We’re still analyzing the numbers so we can know the actual numbers, if these are really rising or just a function of our reporting.)

For the past 3 days, the DOH recorded 284, 350, and 380 new cases, respectively.

On Thursday, the country reported 539 new cases – higher than the daily average of some 200 new cases recorded in recent weeks. 

Vergeire said 33 out of the 43 testing laboratories now have “zero backlog.” Meanwhile, the country now has 34 laboratories capable of processing reverse transcription polymerace chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday approved the recommendation of the government’s coronavirus task force to downgrade Metro Manila, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Pangasinan, Albay, and Davao City to general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1. 

The rest of the country will be under modified GCQ, the lowest form of community quarantine enforced by the government.

But experts and scientists at the University of the Philippines said data from the DOH shows it may be “premature” to ease quarantine measures.

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.