Data cleanup, backlogged cases cause delay in DOH’s coronavirus updates

Bonz Magsambol, Ryan Macasero

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Data cleanup, backlogged cases cause delay in DOH’s coronavirus updates
The health department hires more data encoders to help catch up with the testing backlog. Its Central Visayas office stops providing daily updates.

CEBU CITY, Philippines – For the first time, the Department of Health (DOH) missed its usual 4 pm briefing on the latest coronavirus cases on Friday, May 29.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters in a message that the delay was caused by the need for the DOH to validate numbers. She said they were going to release the data at around 9 pm.

Vergeire explained in a news briefing earlier on Friday that the DOH would start identifying the number of “fresh” or new cases, as well as those that came from the testing backlog. This means they would start indicating the dates on the counts they release to differentiate between new cases and delayed results.

This is happening at a time when the DOH has been reporting sudden increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and when quarantine measures in Metro Manila and other parts of the country will be eased starting June 1.

For the past 4 days, the DOH recorded 284, 350, 380, and 539 new confirmed cases, respectively – higher than the daily average of some 200 new cases recorded in recent weeks.

In a statement released Friday night, Vergeire said that the sudden spike in the daily reported cases was a result of increased testing and the DOH’s “aggressive efforts to catch up on the testing backlog.”

The DOH said they had to hire more encoders to help clear the backlog. 

Previously, it was often the case that local government units and regional Department of Health offices would announce their figures immediately, while these would get delayed in Manila. 

On April 22, for example, the Cebu CIty Health Department announced 139 new cases, while the central office announced only 111 new cases

Vergeire explained then that those numbers were validated by the Central Visayas office but had not yet been reconciled in the Manila office. (READ: Minding the gaps: Why coronavirus counts by DOH, LGUs differ

Dr Rio Magpantay, director of the DOH epidemiology bureau, explained previously that timely submission of complete and verified data “requires an adequate number of disease surveillance staff who shall find and interview cases, accomplish the CIF (case investigation forms), and [encode and update] these data in an electronic information system.”

Dr Jaime Bernadas, the chief of DOH-7, acknowledged the delayed reporting as well and said they hoped this new reporting system would help expedite the validation time from the local to national data.

Central Visayas data delayed more than a week

But even the local office stopped releasing their daily updates, when they used to report the data religiously. This information is important especially in Cebu City, where the highest number of coronavirus cases have been reported outside the National Capital Region. Between May 21 and May 27, there were no reports released by DOH-7.

When asked for an explanation, the DOH-7 said they were conducting a “database update and cleanup.”

They began sending the missed updates from May 21 onwards on Wednesday, May 27, but have yet to provide the data for May 28 and 29. 

The new data sheet was much different, however. It contained a timeline of cases, a breakdown by gender and age, newly confirmed cases per date, and the status of previous cases. 

They also included a graph highlighting comorbidities of those who died and a comparison to infections from other unrelated diseases.

For example, the May 27 bulletin highlighted that 8,150 cases of dengue were confirmed from January 1 to March 31 this year, the early period of the coronavirus outbreak.

It highlighted that there were only 34 confirmed cases of the virus in Central Visayas then, compared to the thousands of dengue cases.

Over the past two weeks, these comparisons to other diseases had also been aired by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia during her press briefings to highlight that the virus “is not as deadly as earlier projected” and to assure the public it was the right time to transition from lockdown to general community quarantine.  

As of Friday, May 29, there were 16,634 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, with 942 deaths and 3,720 recoveries.

This marked a new record high as the DOH reported a total of 1,046 more COVID-19 cases. Of this number, 46 were “fresh cases” (released to patients within the last 3 days) while 1,000 were “late cases,” referring to results that took more than 4 days to release.

So far, close to 6 million people have been infected with the virus around the world, while at least 360,000 people have died from the disease. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.
Nobuhiko Matsunaka


Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at