DOH wants symptomatic, vulnerable patients prioritized for COVID-19 testing

Bonz Magsambol

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DOH wants symptomatic, vulnerable patients prioritized for COVID-19 testing

File photo of a woman undergoing swab testing


'RT-PCR testing shall be prioritized to A1, A2, and A3 individuals,' says Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire
DOH wants symptomatic, vulnerable patients prioritized for COVID-19 testing

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story carried the title, “DOH wants COVID-19 testing limited to symptomatic patients, vulnerable groups.” We have revised the title and the lead to more accurately reflect the DOH recommendation.

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) has recommended prioritizing COVID-19 testing for symptomatic patients and vulnerable groups, such as health workers (A1), senior citizens (A2), and individuals with comorbidities (A3).

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire presented the DOH recommendation in a town hall with health workers on Wednesday, January 12.

“RT-PCR testing shall be prioritized to A1, A2, and A3 individuals. This is because those above 60 years old or with comorbidities can be provided with different medicines and antivirals within the first five days of their symptoms. And also for health workers, surveillance or screening of health workers ensures adequate health care system capacity to implement care in our facilities,” she said.

“Testing should not be required for asymptomatic close contacts,” Vergeire added.

Below is the matrix of the recommended testing protocols by the DOH.

DOH technical adviser Edsel Salvaña explained the logic behind the recommendation, saying that many people in the country have already been vaccinated against COVID-19. As of January 11, 48.45% of the 110-million population of the country have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The most important action point is that there are many many people who are already vaccinated, which means that if you are vaccinated and you’re not in the vulnerable population most likely 99.9% of the time you will recover and you won’t require any antivirals and you won’t need to be hospitalized,” he said.

Citing the case of influenza virus, Salvaña said that no testing is required for patients with flu.

“What we do with the flu is basically we just do sentinel sampling if there are issues about it. If we want to treat or somebody has to be hospitalized that’s the time that we test,” Salvaña explained.

Sentinel testing is used to analyze disease trends and distribution in a community without testing the whole population. It involves a limited number of individuals that undergo testing.

Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the DOH’s Health Promotion Bureau, echoed Salvaña saying: “We slowly move out of making sure we calculate every single COVID-19 case in the country which we actually don’t do with other infectious diseases like influenza.”

Sound policy?

In a text message to Rappler on Thursday, January 13, Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said that he agrees with the DOH proposal He said that “it’s better to prioritize the test to those vulnerable population who are higher risk of getting severe infection and knowing if they have COVID-19 [so] they can be closely monitored.”

“For those not under vulnerable population, testing them will not give us additional benefit since most of them, if with COVID-19, are not risk for severe illness,” he explained.

Solante is part of the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel. He heads the adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine unit at San Lazaro Hospital, and is former president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

In a Viber message to reporters on Thursday, Vergeire said that the new protocols on testing are still up for approval from the government coronavirus task force.

“The Town Hall yesterday is only for HCWs (healthcare workers) consultation and meeting,” adding that the policy will still be presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases for alignment with other government agencies.

If the proposal gets the task force nod, daily COVID-19 numbers will likely go down since there will be prioritization for testing.

The proposal comes as the country is dealing with a fresh surge in infections driven by the Omicron COVID-19 variant. On January 10, the Philippines logged its highest single-day tally of COVID-19 cases at 33,169. The country now has over 3 million confirmed infections of the deadly virus. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.