Hiring of more contact tracers rejected

Published July 16, 2020, 1:49 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Iloilo Rep. and former Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Janette Garin said hiring more contact tracers at this point in the fight against COVID-19 is no longer advisable.

Iloilo 1st District Rep. and former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“The hiring of many contact tracers in my point of view will not be that cost effective anymore kasi nagbukas na tayo (because we already opened up),” Garin said in the virtual hearing of the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC)-Health cluster which she is a co-chairperson on Wednesday.

“Contact tracing using hired personnel would have been better during the lockdown. But at this point in time when we have partially — and the others have fully — opened, contact-tracing without technology is almost impossible,” she said, referring to the time when most of the country was still under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

Last week, DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that the government intends to ramp up the hiring of contact tracers within this month.

The DILG is reportedly eyeing graduates from the allied medical fields, criminology, and similar courses to add to its roster of contact tracers of which there are 50,000 volunteers nationwide.

Reports said that the agency wants to double the current number of contact-tracing teams amid the current surge in COVID-19 infections in the country.

But Garin said the “value for money isn’t there” and that human contact tracers are bound to “miss a lot of things” post-ECQ, where people have become more mobile and businesses have reopened.

The Philippines has recorded nearly 60,000 cases of COVID-19 infections as well as over 1,600 deaths.

Also during the hearing, Tarlac Rep. Victor Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology, suggested the use of a bluetooth based contact-tracing since this would be the best in terms of protecting the privacy of individuals.

“Ang sana gamiting technology would be the bluetooth technology. Maraming magrereklamo pero ito ay walang privacy issue. Other technologies have issues on privacy kaya medyo may question kaya hahaba pa ang application (Bluetooth-based technology should be used. Many will complain about this, but it doesn’t have any privacy issue. Other technologies have issues on privacy, and the questions about it will only prolong the application),” he said.

Yap recounted that his panel began discussions with Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) officials on technology-assisted contact-tracing way back in April or during the height of the ECQ, but it went nowhere mainly due to stakeholders’ concerns about privacy.

“In the future, kung maayos ang issue na iyon eh di pwedeng i-adopt ang mas superior technology. But in the meantime, I think having bluetooth…Sana ito yung i-develop ng DICT (If the privacy issue gets solved in the future then that’s the time that superior technology can be adopted. But in the meantime, I think having bluetooth-based contact-tracing should be developed by the DICT).”

Garin responded to Yap’s proposal by asking him to confer with an Information Technology provider in an effort to come up with projected budget for it. The DCC cluster would then inform the concerned agencies about it.

“It’s very important to tweak this into the pandemic response,” said Garin, who is also a House Deputy Minority Leader.