By Chito Chavez
As testing for the novel coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) intensifies in the country, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has expressed the readiness of local government units (LGUs), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to support the Department of Health (DOH) in conducting expanded testing in various localities.
“Katuwang ng DOH ang mga LGUs, at ang local PNP at BFP sa pagsasagawa ng maayos, mabilis, at sistematikong COVID-19 testing sa mga lokalidad (The LGUs, PNP, and BFP are one with the DOH in ensuring orderly, fast, and systematic COVID-19 testing in the localities),” DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año assured.
Año explained that the COVID-19 expanded testing is crucial in implementing the National Strategy to Defeat COVID, which is summarized as “Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate those that have been infected by COVID-19.”
In Memorandum Circular 2020-073, Año said LGUs were ordered to increase the number of their trained Contact Tracing Teams (CTTs) who will identify and monitor suspected persons with known exposure to and contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases to mitigate the possibility of contagion.
The CTT in each LGU is led by the PNP chief of police and assisted by the local health officer, with staff from the PNP local police station, the local health office, and the Bureau of Fire Protection. Its members include the local disaster risk reduction management officer, a barangay health worker, barangay health emergency response team members, and the barangay public safety officer.
In the same directive, Año said LGUs are also expected to ensure the functionality of their Ligtas COVID-19 Center or Community Quarantine Facility, making sure that these are conducive for recovery and have adequate medical personnel, facilities, and medicines for COVID-19 patients.
He stressed that it is necessary for LGUs to increase the number of trained personnel who shall conduct swabbing and specimen collection to assist the local epidemiology and surveillance unit.
Año said all LGUs are required to submit a status report to the city/municipal COVID-19 Task Force (TF), which will send a regular action report to the provincial and regional TFs every 2 p.m. The reports cover a 24-hour period, from noon the previous day.
The report should include the number of confirmed cases, number of trained staff for contact tracing, number of contact tracing conducted, number of PUIs identified, isolated, and tested, number of available PPEs, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits, and how many Ligtas COVID-19 centers were established either by the LGUs or the national government.
Order of priority for testing
To perform the expanded testing based on the order of priority, Año said barangay officials must use their existing census data to classify “at-risk” individuals and to prioritize contact tracing for those who have been in close contact with reported persons with COVID-19.
In the meantime, LGUs are also responsible for continuing contact tracing of those who have been in contact with positive patients, maintaining strict adherence to self-quarantine and monitoring the status of positive cases, PUIs, and PUMs.
Due to the increased demand for testing, Año said priority will be given to in- patients, including medical professionals and health workers, who show severe to critical symptoms of COVID-19, who have a recent history of travel, or who have been in touch with a confirmed patient.
The second priority are medical professionals and health care workers with mild symptoms and have known exposure to a positive patient, as well as patients with mild symptoms of COVID-19 who are identified as high-risk with pre-existing medical conditions and/or are members of vulnerable groups (senior citizen and pregnant women with co-morbidities), and with known travel history or contact with a positive patient.
Asymptomatic medical professionals and health workers but with known exposure to a positive patient, and all asymptomatic patients with known travel history or contact to a positive patient are included in the third priority.
He said the closest LESU in the area is mainly responsible for swabbing and gathering specimens.
“Local health units shall provide the LESU with the required technical and logistical support during the collection of samples,” he noted.
Proper reporting of cases
DILG undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan E. Malaya urged the LGUs to ensure proper reporting of cases within their jurisdiction.
“Now that there are more COVID-19-testing kits available from various sources, it is very important for the LGUs to keep their database updated on the actual number of cases, so that proper course of action will be provided to the concerned individuals and the people that they had recently come in contact with,” Malaya said.
“With expanded testing and proper reporting, we can have a clearer picture of COVID-19 cases in the country. We can also have a more pragmatic course of national action so we can heal as one,” he added.
He expressed extreme confidence that with more testing kits and accredited laboratories now available, the country is closer to the Department of Health’s (DOH) target of 3,000 to 8,000 tests per day.
Among the new testing centers are St. Luke’s Quezon City and Bonifacio Global City, V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City, Medical City in Pasig City, The Makati Medical Center, and the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory.