Coronavirus cases in Catanduanes topped the thousand mark last Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, a day after the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) urged local government units to be more aggressive in the campaign against COVID-19, especially in contact tracing.
In Memorandum Circular 2021-91, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año directed the LGUs to implement more aggressively the government’s Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate+Vaccinate (PDITR+V) strategy and contact tracing initiatives to contain highly-transmissible COVID-19 variants.
He ordered LGUs to reactivate their respective Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) Teams in every barangay.
The CODE teams shall operate to actively and aggressively look for and detect known COVID-19 cases in the community and individuals who exhibit LOVID-19 symptoms, the circular stated.
The circular also enjoined LGUs to scale up their COVID-19 testing capacity by facilitating partnerships with government and private healthcare facilities and professionals to enable fast and frequent testing.
Immediately after confirmation of a COVID-19 case, regardless of variant, the LGU shall conduct contact tracing through the rapid mobilization of the contact tracing team.
“Contact tracing shall be done up to the third generation of close contacts, per recommendation by DOH,” Sec. Año said, with the tracing of the first generation of close contacts to be completed within 24 hours upon confirmation of the COVID-19 case.
“All close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients shall be immediately tested and isolated,” he underscored.
Aside from the strict enforcement of minimum public health standards, the LGUs are to continue the strict implementation of localized or granular lockdowns in areas where there is a high concentration of COVID-19 cases and to extend necessary support such as food packs to affected residents.
Local governments surely need a reminder from the local government secretary, especially at this time when local transmission of the virus and its variants has led to a sustained surge in cases.
To illustrate the rapid spread of the virus, just six months ago on Feb. 27, 2021, there were just 193 COVID-19 cases and three deaths in this geographically-isolated province.
That number has increased by 810, or over 800 percent despite stringent border control measures at the port of Tabaco and the airport. The number of fatalities from coronavirus complications has jumped by 1,100 percent to 36 as of last week.
Just in the past seven days, 37 new cases were recorded by the Provincial Health Office in the different towns and 25 of them were close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases.
In contrast, only one was found to have a travel history.
This means the border control measures are working despite the occasional fake RT-PCR tests and the certain possibility that some untouchable and untested Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APORs) are carrying the virus into the island.
The DILG memo focuses on the rapid contact tracing at the LGU level, up to the third generation of close contacts, and with the tracing of the first generation completed within 24 hours.
It underscores, for all LGUs to comply, that all close contact shall be immediately tested and isolated.
There have been reliable reports, which may be borne out by an investigation, that some municipal government are not testing close contacts who are asymptomatic at the time the contact tracing is made.
These untested close contacts are merely advised to isolate for 14 days, with many of them apparently not monitored by members of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team.
Already, some national government offices have closed their offices due to officials and employees contracting the virus.
Last week, the Viga municipal government’s main building was ordered closed for a week after two heads of key departments tested positive.
While it can be conceded that a few positive travelers could slip through holes in the border control system along with negligent APORs, the fact remains that local government units in the island are failing to implement strictly the minimum public health standards.
With crowds of cockfight aficionados frequenting a known online sabong venue and barrio folks going around without facemasks, expect the slow surge of new COVID-19 cases to lead to more community transmissions and, God forbid, overwhelm our inadequate and poorly-equipped health care system.