By Mario Casayuran
Sen. Maria Lourdes “Nancy” Binay suggested on Saturday the formation of teams of trained coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ‘’trackers’’ that could be the key to curbing the spread of the virus in communities as the country transitions from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ).
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the government’s handicap in managing public health, particularly in the area of contact tracing, Binay, chairwoman of the Senate science and technology committee, said.
“Habang tumatagal, numinipis ang hanay ng ating healthworkers pati na ang ating mga taong inaasahan sa barangay (As time goes by, the number of our health workers and barangay frontliners has been significantly reduced). The first step once ECQ is lifted is to see to it that the LGU (local government unit) is ready and well-equipped when it comes to tracking possible carriers who have been exposed to infected people. It is best that we come prepared and start training an army of contact tracers as we transition from ECQ to GCQ,” she pointed out.
Binay said that contact tracing is an essential public health safety tool to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“If we can train enough volunteers from both health and non-health sectors, sila ang magiging ‘army’ (..they will become the ‘army’) of public health fieldworkers and barangay health workers trained to track down every case should the situation get worse,” she added.
Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, the lady senator said that an army of contact tracers would be needed for possible surges of infected cases, and the possible resurgence of a second wave pandemic.
“Contact tracing is a labor-intensive mission. Kaya (thus), we need to train practically a battalion of trackers deployed in small functional teams or units. And since may available naman na covid-tracking apps, we can either provide tablets or use existing mobile phones and arm them with necessary tools to make the system work,” Binay noted.
With public health guidance, Binay stressed that the Department o Health (DOH, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and LGUs should still take the lead in creating a special unit of trackers who would make phone calls, visit communities, interview those in contact with suspected and confirmed carriers, as well as infected people who could be asymptomatic carriers who have exposed others without knowing it.
“Kahit pa na i-downgrade sa GCQ, dapat mas maging maingat at conscious tayo na sundin ang (Even if ECQ is downgraded to GCQ, we still need to be careful and conscious in following) minimum public health protocols (wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, quarantine), and infection control measures (coughing, sneezing etiquette). We should never let our guards down and must strengthen our public health system’s key actions like testing capacity, isolation facilities, medical treatment and contact tracing readiness,” Binay said.
At present, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has tasked the DILG-Philippine National Police) to do contract tracing since police are trained in surveillance and information gathering.
Without enough public health background and because of their unfamiliarity of the people and urban terrain, the DILG admitted having a hard time tracking down suspected COVID-19 carriers who might have already infected other people.