The race to contain community COVID outbreaks starts now

Published September 23, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The reopening of some aspects of the economy such as allowing limited dine-in in restaurants or permitting salons to accept clients gave a sense of hope for the business sector. With continuous vaccinations and implementation of focused lockdowns on streets or villages meant to cut the root of COVID-19 transmission, it seems like the country is on its way to recovery and Filipinos could expect a more joyful holiday season.

Before anyone could wear a celebratory hat, two recent news coming from Quezon City are a cause for some caution. A COVID community outbreak, as reports have specified, had occurred in two places where the most vulnerable are housed — a seminary, which has senior citizens; and an orphanage, where children are sheltered.

Quezon City’s Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit is now constantly monitoring the situation in these locations, making sure that the outbreak is contained and residents are provided with their essential needs. Though there were recoveries from those who were infected in the seminary, one priest has passed away, a stark reminder that COVID is life-threatening for the vulnerable.  In the orphanage, no fatalities were recorded while some of the infected kids are gradually recovering.

These cases in Quezon City should not be taken lightly but must become a warning to other LGUs. As early as last year, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has alerted the world that certain settings and vulnerable populations in a community are at particularly high risk for transmission, and it includes “congregate settings such as nursing homes, long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, among others.”  With a dominant virus variant as “sly and swift” such as Delta, the rapid and rabid infection inside an orphanage or a convent is not a surprising scenario.

In these situations, various health agencies all over the world have come up with guidelines on how to deal with community outbreaks and mitigate the spread of the virus. The Department of Health and the corresponding LGU should only look at the best practices that have proven to be effective in similar situations.

The CDC, in an extensive guideline, has set measures that specifically address community-based transmission. To combat COVID, it doesn’t need a scientific formula as health experts recommend “going back to the basics” — opening the windows to let fresh air circulate, thorough cleaning of indoor and outdoor facilities such as restrooms, limiting outside visit, etc.

Quezon City’s mayor seems to be aware of these guidelines as she called on administrators of workplaces and other high-risk closed facilities to strictly implement minimum public health protocols to avoid similar outbreaks. She also instructed the city’s health department to expand swab testing and contact tracing.

It would not be surprising to read in the coming days that similar outbreaks would occur in other facilities in various towns, cities, and provinces. What citizens should ask is not “where” but “what” — what measures are being implemented to fight the spread of the virus. With clarity, transparency, and resolve from our government’s pandemic response, a community-based outbreak should not be a cause of concern or raise the alarm, but would just serve as a reminder for all of us to take extra caution and to be vigilant in following health protocols.