Health officials differ on handling of “recovered” Beta variant cases

In the wake of the Department of Health’s confirmation that there are now COVID-19 “variants of concern” in Catanduanes, local health officials are said to be having disagreements on what to do with “variant” patients who are deemed to have recovered from the disease.
Last week, a ranking government official, whose swab sample was sequenced to have the Alpha variant, was advised by the Virac Rural Health Unit (RHU) to undergo strict home quarantine from Aug. 24 to Sept. 7, 2021.
The official was swabbed on July 19 along with members of the Virac poblacion household comprising three families and their house helpers.
His positive result, along with those of four family members and two helpers, was released on July 21.
The family apparently caught the virus from another family member who tested positive two days earlier on July 19 along with two of his fellow employees at a government office.
Assuming they were quarantined on July 19, all the eight members of the family ended the 14-day isolation on Aug. 2.
Last June, the DOH admitted that logistical problems, notably the shortage of genome sequencing kits, were delaying the release of results that would identify the latest number of detected COVID-19 variant cases in the country.
It was 22 days later on Aug. 24, the Department of Health (DOH) released information that four members of the family had tested positive for the Beta variant.
This was confirmed later by DOH Provincial Officer Dr. Robert John Aquino, who said that there are now Alpha and Beta variant cases in Catanduanes but did not specify the number of cases and their locations.
The genome sequencing results proved perplexing for the family, as the member who apparently infected them with the virus was not among those who tested positive for the Beta variant.
At the time, local health authorities were reported to be asking the four variant cases to undergo a repeat swab and to go into another 14-day quarantine just to be safe.
Prior to the variant finding, the working members of the family had already reported for work and assumed their daily routines.
According a knowledgeable source, the close contacts at work of one of the Beta variant cases were no longer required to submit swab specimens or to undergo 14-day quarantine while those of the ranking official were told to submit themselves to swabbing and isolation.
However, DOH Department Memorandum No. 2021-0128 issued on Feb. 8, 2021, which provides “Interim Guidelines on Routine Biosurveillance for SARS-CoV-2 and Management of Cases with Identified Variants of Concern,” specifies only 10 days of strict quarantine for those who test positive for the variants. For all positive cases, the guidelines’ case management protocol states, health officials should implement “strict isolation (own room and toilet) in a facility for 10 days, starting from the day swabbed or onset of illness, whichever is later.” They will also undergo repeat RT-PCR testing prior to discharge
All 1st to 3rd generation contacts shall be placed in facility quarantine or strict home quarantine for 14 days, it stressed.
Immediate contact tracing and isolation of close contacts, with samples to be collected immediately if symptomatic or on the 5th day from date of last exposure if asymptomatic, the DOH reminded.
For confirmed cases where a flagged variant was detected, contact tracing, testing and quarantine should cover contacts up to the 3rd generation.
If the variant case was a passenger of a plane or sea vessel, contact tracing should include all passengers to determine their health, laboratory and quarantine status, it added.

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