Mobilization of barangay officials could produce 5.5 M contract tracers — Galvez

There will be around 5.5 million contact tracers in the country if local government units (LGUs) across the country will mobilize barangay officials in finding coronavirus disease-positive patients, the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 bared Saturday.

In a meeting with local government officials in Malolos, Bulacan, NTF chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said contact tracing is "very crucial" in the country's fight against COVID-19 to contain the transmission of the virus in the communities.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 (NTF AGAINST COVID-19 / MANILA BULLETIN)

He urged local chief executives to organize contact tracing teams led by the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs), barangay captains, watchmen (tanods), members of Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) councils, and other village officials.

"If we involve all the barangays in the country, we will have 5.5 million contact tracers," Galvez said.

Galvez added that for every one COVID-positive patient, at least 30 close contacts should be traced and tested, a protocol that, according to him, is being achieved  only by a handful of LGUs.

The details as to how the barangay officials will be trained to be qualified contact tracers are yet to be clarified by Galvez.

Currently, there are around 7,000 contact tracing teams with 85,000 contact tracers in the country, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the lead agency in contact tracing efforts.

However, DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano, who is also the deputy chairperson of the NTF, said around 50,000 contact tracers are needed to meet the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended ratio of one contact tracer for every 800 people.

Ano has sought P5 billion from the Congress for the hiring and training of 50,000 additional contact tracers.

But Galvez said the need for more contact tracers will be addressed if LGUs will be successful in assembling contact tracing teams in the barangays.

"Hindi na natin kailangan mag-hire, nandyan na agad 'yan (We no longer need to hire people, they are readily available there)," he said.

He cited the "commendable" efforts of barangay contact tracing teams in Cebu City which helped in stabilizing the COVID-19 situation there.

"At one point, Cebu City had the highest number of cases in the country, it even surpassed the National Capital Region. But the barangay captains committed themselves in the fight and led the enforcement of quarantine protocols, contact tracing, and isolation of patients," he said.

Relatedly, Cebu City was among the 10 areas which remained under the general community quarantine (GCQ) from August 16 to 31. Other areas are Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Quezon province, Iloilo City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, Talisay City, and the municipalities of Minglanilla and Consolacion in Cebu province.

According to Galvez, Cebu City is performing "better" now compared to the previous months where a surge of infections brought the city's health care system to the brink of collapse.

"Ang ganda na ng kanilang performance. Mayroon silang mga araw na walang namamatay at pababa na ang kanilang critical care utilization (Their performance has improved. There were days that not a single patient died and their critical care utilization is going down," he said, crediting the feat to the aggressive contact tracing in the barangay and coupled with expanded testing and immediate isolation of positive cases.