DOH: COVID-19 testing optional for close contacts without symptoms

DOH: COVID-19 testing optional for close contacts without symptoms
Filipinos queue for RT-PCR swab tests at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022 as the Philippines records a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Asymptomatic close contacts who are not part of vulnerable groups are no longer required to get tested, the Department of Health said.

Under the updated testing protocol discussed by DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday, health workers, senior citizens, and people with comorbidities should be prioritized for RT-PCR testing.

“Testing shall be recommended and prioritized for instances when results of testing will affect the clinical management,” Vergeire said.

“Testing shall now be optional for community level actions, specifically testing should not be required for asymptomatic close contacts. Instead, symptoms monitoring is recommended,” she added.

In case an individual who has been exposed to a COVID-positive person decides to be tested, testing should be done at least five days from the day of exposure.

World Health Organization country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe on Wednesday said that there is no need to do confirmatory testing if one member of a household tests positive.

“You just need to assume it’s Omicron and because it’s much milder, it would be prudent to just isolate or quarantine as the case may be,” Abeyasinghe said.

Under the new policy, contact tracing—a key component in the government’s COVID-19 response—is no longer a priority.

“At this point wherein we already have community transmission, contact tracing is not recommended as priority intervention,” Vergeire said.

According to the health official, the interior department was instructed to expand the roles of contact tracers to implement community health actions such as monitoring of individuals under home quarantine and assisting in vaccination activities.

The updated guidelines also shortened the quarantine and isolation periods of fully-vaccinated COVID-19 patients and their close contacts.

“Even with increasing cases, current science on benefits of vaccination and features of Omicron variant makes us confident to shorten isolation and quarantine period, reserve testing when assessed by physician to be necessary for medical management, make testing optional when actions are the same regardless of test result,” Vergeire said.

The updated policies will be presented to the government’s pandemic task force for alignment with other national government agencies, the department told reporters. Approval from the president or from the IATF are usually needed for policies to be enforced.

The changes in protocols come as the Philippines struggles to contain a surge believed to be driven by the hyper-transmissible Omicron variant. The DOH on Wednesday confirmed 32,246 infections, bringing the number of active cases to over 208,000. — Gaea Katreena Cabico


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