MANILA — The Department of Health on Tuesday said its new way of reporting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases was "temporary," as the reclassification strategy drew flak from the public.
“This is a temporary measure,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Tuesday morning. “Hindi po natin sinasadya na magulo ang mga tao.”
(This is a temporary measure. We did not mean to cause confusion among the public.)
She said that while the Philippines is the only country that classifies its additional COVID-19 cases as fresh and late — to show which ones are from delayed validation — other countries have also faced challenges in dealing with their own data systems.
Vergeire cited China, which also did its own reclassification hence an increase in its number of cases.
In February, China’s death toll soared as it changed its counting methods to include past suspected cases who were clinically diagnosed with the disease using lung imaging.
“Ang mga ganitong challenges sa data system hindi lang sa Pilipinas nangyayari,” Vergeire said.
(These challenges in the data system does not only happen in the Philippines.)
She however emphasized the importance of isolating patients even if they are not yet confirmed cases.
The issue of delayed validation came up as Filipinos saw the widening gap between positive individuals and confirmed cases. This meant that a large number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 have not been included yet in the official list of the DOH.
Vergeire said the use of the term fresh cases to refer to those who tested positive and were validated in the last 3 days and the term late for those who were validated late was their way of being transparent.
During the briefing, Vergeire further explained that the new breakdown in new cases coincided with the government effort to automate their data system. Instead of accepting paper forms, the hospitals and laboratories are now being asked to use the digital application of COVIDKaya, which was developed by the DOH with the help of the World Health Organization.
“Part of the process of automating the system is for us to have cleaner data,” Vergeire explained. “So we asked for the line list from laboratories to cross validate with the data that the Epidemiology Bureau also has.”
The list is supposed to be a table of all the people who were tested by the laboratories.
“Nakakita tayo ng sinasabi na hindi mga na-capture prior o before at hindi pa natin nairereport (We saw names that were not captured before or were not reported). So we got that again. So that is a pool of individuals that have not been reported and these are the late cases actually,” Vergeire said.
Although it is true that in the end both fresh and late cases are just added to the cumulative number of cases in the country, she explained the need to plot the dates of when these patients became sick.
She said this would show if the cases in the country are really dwindling or if there is still a high risk of the spread of the disease.
“Once we have validated this line list from the laboratories. We would be reverting to the case bulletin as before,” she said.
According to DOH, 38 out of 42 laboratories have already submitted their line list. Two gave partial lists so only 2 more laboratories have yet to submit. Among the problems cited for the delay were lack of encoders or the need to clean their data.
Vergeire said they gave the labs until Sunday for their submissions.