The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) called on Saturday, Sept. 18 all local government units (LGUs) to employ at least one contact tracer per barangay “with population not exceeding 5,000’’ in a bid to enhance the case findings and contact tracing efforts with the pilot enforcement of the Alert Level System in Metro Manila.
“We want to be more aggressive in our case finding and contact tracing efforts considering the fast spread of the (coronavirus disease-2019 or COVID-19) Delta variant. Dahil dito, importante na mayroon ng karagdagang contact tracer sa bawat barangay para mapabilis ang pagtutunton at maalalayan ang mga positive cases at close contacts (Because of this, it is important to have additional contact tracers in each barangay to expedite and assist positive cases and close contacts),’’ said DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año.
Año clarified that the barangay contact tracer should be on top of the contract tracers provided by the LGUs, adding that the DILG is prepared to conduct training for the additional barangay contact tracers through the Local Government Academy (LGA) or the Department of Health (DOH).’’
“Mainam na ang contact tracer ay magmula sa miyembro ng BHERT (Barangay Health Emergency Response Team) ng barangay dahil inaasahan na sila ay nakadalo sa mga angkop na pagsasanay at kilala nila ang mga tao sa kanilang lugar (It is better if the contact tracer comes from BHERT of the barangay since they are expected to have attended appropriate exercises and they know the people in their places),” he added.
In barangays with populations exceeding 5,000, Año noted that more contact tracers may be hired or assigned by the LGUs to ensure that there are people on the ground who are monitoring COVID-19 cases and their contacts.
Based on the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines, the National Capital Region (NCR) is under Alert Level 4 as COVID-19 case counts are high and/or increasing with its total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at high levels.
The IATF guidelines also stressed that ‘granular level lockdown or micro-level quarantine’ may also be declared by the mayors for areas identified as critical zones by the LGUs regardless of the alert level.
In Memorandum Circular 2021-103, Año said the responsibilities of contact tracers include doing house-to-house visits to find out new arrivals from the provinces or other countries and to list down their close contacts.
He added that the contact tracers should also advise the new arrivals to be on home quarantine, get their temperature, and be on the lookout for COVID-19 symptoms for the next 14 days.
“Kapag may lumabas na (COVID-19) sintomas, dapat agad na maihiwalay ang taong iyon sa mga kasamahan niya sa bahay dahil siya ay itinuturing na COVID-19 suspect. (If any symptoms appear, the concerned individual should be separated from the other household members since the person is considered a COVID-19 suspect). He or she should be immediately brought to the referral center of the DOH or to the hospital for further examination and treatment,’’ the DILG Chief said.
Año also emphasized that it is important for the LGUs, with the assistance of the BHERTs and contact tracers, to reduce the time for case detection to isolation as well as to improve vaccine coverage to lower COVID-19 cases.
“Muli rin po kaming nakikiusap sa publiko na ipraktis ang minimum public health standards (MPHS) at mag-isolate na at makipag-ugnayan sa inyong LGU kapag may sintomas kayong nararamdaman. Tayo rin ang patuloy na mahihirapan at mapeperwisyo kapag hindi tayo sumusunod sa MPHS (We are appealing to the public anew to practice the minimum public health standards (MPHS) and have themselves isolated and coordinate with your LGU if you feel any (COVID-19) symptoms. We will continue to suffer and be inconvenienced if we refuse to follow the MPHS),’’ Año stressed.
Under the supervision of the City/Municipal Health Offices, a total of 130,178 contact tracers are now deployed nationwide to help in contact tracing activities and cater to the country’s 103.5-million population.
Año disclosed that “the current number (of contact tracers) is generally sufficient but with the increasing threat of Delta variant, more aggressive case finding and contact tracing measures are directly needed as the primary step in the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy against COVID-19.’’
With more vaccines arriving in the country, Año urged the LGUs to serve as many eligible recipients as possible to fast-track the mass vaccination program while advising the public to coordinate with their LGUs for their vaccination schedules.
“Napakalaki ang maitutulong ng pagpapabakuna para mas mapababa natin ang (COVID-19) kaso at makatawid na tayo sa new normal (The vaccine is of great help to bring down the cases and transform us to the new normal),’’ Año pointed out. (Chito A. Chavez)