MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has reminded local government units that they need at least one contact tracer per 800 people to stem coronavirus cases in their areas.
Duque gave a refresher on the government’s minimum health standards for COVID-19 preparedness a few days before the easing of quarantine measures in the country, when areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) – like Metro Manila – transition into modified ECQ and others, into less stringent levels of quarantine beginning May 16.
“Mabilisang mass tracing na may sapat na contact tracers ang kailangan para hindi makalusot ang COVID-19 at agarang ma-isolate (Fast contact tracing with enough contact tracers are needed to contain the spread of the virus, and for immediate isolation),” he said in a televised briefing on Wednesday, May 13.
Duque said that a city with a population of 40,000, for example, needs 500 contact tracers.
Aside from the ratio of contact tracers per population, Duque provided a checklist for LGUs to be properly geared in the fight against the new virus, as enumerated in DOH Administrative Order No. 2020-0016 or the Minimum Health System Standards for COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Strategies released on May 4.
The checklist includes:
- At least one epidemiology and surveillance officer per 1,000 people
- At least one barangay health emergency response team per 1,000 people
- At least 10 trained personnel for coronavirus testing
- A temporary treatment and monitoring facility for every 2,500 people
- At least one ambulance or means of medical transport
- At least one dedicated vehicle for the transportation of specimens
- At least one dedicated funeral parlor or crematorium
Duque said at the briefing that to comply with the DOH checklist, a province like Nueva Ecija – which has a projected population of nearly half a million in 2020 – should aim to have 5 epidemiology officers, 602 contact tracers, 482 barangay health emergency response teams, and at least 10 staff trained to conduct coronavirus testing.
Over 3 months since the coronavirus disease was first detected in the Philippines, the country continues to struggle in increasing its testing capacity. Due to limited test kits, the Philippines is only testing severe to critical cases, and the vulnerable population. (READ: Mass testing will cover severe to critical cases, vulnerable population – DOH)
On Sunday, May 10, the Department of Health said it finally reached its target of conducting an average of 8,000 COVID-19 tests in a day – although 10 days past its target date of April 30.
During a televised briefing on Thursday, May 14, Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief and national testing czar Vince Dizon said the country’s testing capacity per day went up by 70.6% from 8,500 on May 2, to 14,500 on May 10.
The government is targeting 30,000 coronavirus swab tests daily by May 30, which Duque reiterated on Thursday.
Experts have called on the government to invest in mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation, instead of always extending the enhanced community quarantine.
“Isa talaga sa magandang way to fight this pandemic is hindi matagalang ECQ, kundi malawakang testing, isolation, and contact tracing. Dito talaga tayo mag-invest,” Professor Jomar Rabajante of the University of the Philippines Pandemic Response Team said during a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, May 11.
(A good way to fight this pandemic is not prolonged ECQ but mass testing, isolation, and contact tracing. This is where we should invest.)
While most areas in the Philippines would have a relaxed community quarantine by Saturday, May 16, Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City would be under MECQ, where movement of people would still be limited but more industries and workplaces would be alllowed to partially reopen.
As of Wednesday, the Philippines recorded 11,618 coronavirus cases, with 772 deaths and 2,251 recoveries. – Rappler.com