Small town stays focused on rules to prevent COVID transmission

Published July 6, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Pinky Concha-Colmenares


This will be a good time for local government units to document the best practices of their barangays in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. These can be shared with other LGUs which can localize the practices to fit their communities.

More than a year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic caused by COVID-19, many cities and towns have found their own “formula” for prevention, in addition to the health and safety protocols imposed by the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) for the management of emerging infectious diseases.

Although there is a flood of information about this topic in the internet, a manual of best practices that’s working in an LGU that’s just a few provinces away will not only be very useful, it will be very encouraging.

A good example would be to start documenting the experiences of barangays or villages with very low cases of COVID. It is very likely that on top of the “mask, iwas, hugas” protocol, they have added a measure that fits a local situation, which is usually consistent strict implementation.

A town I visited recently has a few lessons that may be good to study.  Tibiao town in Antique, led by Mayor Gil B. Bandoja, had zero COVID cases from December 2019, when the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, until February 2021.

The easing of travel restrictions and the opening of borders brought in the town’s first COVID case sometime in March 2021 and by June, the town recorded 70 cases, 67 of them recovered, with one death.

As of June 17, the town had only two active COVID-19 cases, and the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (LDRRMO) headed by Norman I. Alabado is at work to keep the virus out and have zero COVID cases again. But Alabado faces a big challenge: the easing of travel restrictions towards the end of June caused an increase in COVID cases. As of yesterday, the town has 25 active cases.

Perhaps what may be the driving force to be strict in imposing protocols is that Tibiao (population, 30,378 as of 2020) does not have a hospital. The nearest hospitals are the Culasi District Hospital (19 kilometers away), and the PLGH in the municipality of Barbaza (12 kilometers away).

“Although many residents thought that Dr. Rue Joanna F. Espanola, municipal health officer, was very strict with her recommendation to be meticulous in implementing health protocols, I believe that is the right way to deal with the problem,” he told me when we met at the end of my seven-day isolation in Tibiao.

The LDRRMO, which he heads, will continue the consistent implementation of simple rules — some from the IATF and others from the Antique provincial government — to keep the virus out.

One, all returning residents and visitors are required to present a negative RT-PCR test result before being given a letter of acceptance to enter the town. (A letter of acceptance from the LGU is one of the requirements for the S-Pass which border patrol staff will ask from each traveler.)

Two, in line with the provincial initiative, returning residents are fetched from the airport or sea port. That’s not easy. The airports are quite a distance away. Tibiao is 78 kilometers from the Evelio B. Javier Airport in San Jose de Buenavista; 180 kilometers from the Iloilo City Airport, and 108 kilometers from Kalibo Airport.

The sea port where the RORO ferries from Luzon dock is in Caticalan, Aklan, 85 kilometers from Tibiao.

Norman had a few stories about implementing the fetching part of the protocol, one which involved a truckload of sacadas returning from a neighboring island.  They landed at the port of Dumangas, 200 kilometres away. With the assistance of the provincial government, we had a convoy to Tibiao, to bring them to the isolation facility, he said.

The third rule is time-consuming for the returning residents or APORs (Authorized Persons Outside Residence) – a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a government isolation facility, which only very recently was adjusted to seven days home isolation.

Meanwhile, there are measures to keep residents from gathering in large numbers. The old IATF rule of giving a public market pass to only one member per household is still being implemented. The temperature and address of each shopper is taken at the entrance of the market.

To further reduce the number of people converging in one venue during the market days, the town has encouraged each barangay to open a talipapa in their vicinity.  Many of the 21 barangays have its own talipapa now.

The scheme to decongest the public market has drawn vendors to complain of smaller daily sales. But Norman said all businesses – big or small – are now suffering from low sales.

“We have to take extra care to keep the virus out. We have no hospital. Prevention is better than cure,” this young leader said.