Facts and the public’s trust in government

A week after a concerned citizen asked the Tribune to call the attention of authorities to the face-fo-face seminars and trainings for teachers being conducted by DepEd Catanduanes, 10 teachers were among the new COVID-19 cases recorded over the past week, from Oct. 17 to 23, 2021.
Majority of them were public school teachers coming from various towns.
The Provincial Health Office’s COVID-19 Tracker does not identify who among the new cases are teachers or health care workers. Thankfully, there are various sources who share information about the new cases’ backgrounds.
The available information, however, does not specifically state when and where the teachers got infected. Thus, it would not be correct to put the blame entirely on DepEd’s training-workshops, which according to an informant, are being held in enclosed spaces of hotels and resorts.
Presumably, the venues have all been granted the Safety Seal, proving that it has put in place safety protocols against the coronavirus.
However, as pointed out by last week’s editorial, all these safety protocols become useless once the participants remove their face masks and face shields to eat the snacks and meals.
Whether the contact tracers managed to establish how the teachers-turned-COVID-19 patients got infected, we will probably never know. Health authorities are as secretive as intelligence agencies in keeping vital information close to their chests.
The problem with this de-facto policy is that sometimes those who need to know are not provided with the correct data.
For example, the Incident Management Team (IMT) reportedly wanted the PHO to include employment data on the new COVID-19 cases it regularly reports to the team.
Such information is helpful in determining the proper course of action the IMT would recommend to the concerned entity, whether government or private, once a spate of new cases occurs among their officials and employees.
Certainly, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) would not have taken more than a week to decide on a lockdown had the concerned IATF or the IMT recommended the move once it learned of the rising number of infections in said office.
Assuming that contact tracers managed to trace back the teachers’ infection to the DepEd workshops, the IMT would likely recommend the postponement of such activities until such time that the COVID-19 situation in the province has significantly improved.
With the vaccine rollout now extended to the rest of the target population, it would be interesting to know how many among the 2,131 cases in Catanduanes are “breakthrough infections,” or those who caught the respiratory illness more than 14 days after completing the recommended vaccine doses.
In an Oct. 8, 2021 report, the Food and Drug Administration said the Philippines has so far recorded 516 COVID-19 breakthrough infections out of 20.3 million fully vaccinated individuals, representing only 0.0025 percent among the vaccinated, FDA director general Eric Domingo said.
Fourteen (14) of them died after getting infected with the virus despite being fully vaccinated, the FDA data also showed.
All of them were senior citizens except one who was in the late 50’s, the agency said, adding that many of them had comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension.
As of Sept. 26, it reported, the lowest percentage of breakthrough infections were among those injected with Sputnik and Janssen. Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca’s breakthrough rates were at 0.0014%, 0.003% and 0,005%, respectively, while there were no breakthrough infections observed among individuals fully vaccinated with Moderna and Sinopharm.
Openness and transparency with regards to accurate information, as the FDA has done, is crucial in influencing the public’s trust of government and its policies.
So why is the daily COVID-19 update of DOH Bicol still showing only 11 deaths in Catanduanes, when the PHO COVID-19 Tracker reports 70 as of Oct. 22, 2021?
Even if the local update displays the correct number, the uncorrected DOH data does not speak well of those entrusted with vital information.
And this attitude does not help the cause of local journalists, who need to have verifiable facts, as well as the desire of government to be trusted by the public it has sworn to serve.

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