No “ayuda” for poor families
during MECQ from Nov. 1-15

IN APPEALING FOR RETENTION of the MGCQ status, Gov. Joseph Cua, DILG Dir. Uldarico Razal Jr., provincial health officials and municipal mayors led by San Andres’ Peter Cua discuss possible justifications to convince the national IATF not to impose the stricter MECQ during their emergency meeting last Oct. 27, 2021.

The national government will not provide financial assistance for poor families during the lockdown this Nov. 1 to 15, 2021 following the declaration of Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in Catanduanes from the previous MGCQ.
This was confirmed by Governor Joseph C. Cua in a text message to the Tribune last weekend after the last-minute appeal of local chief executives and health officials to the National Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) on Oct. 28 apparently went unheeded.
“Malaman natin in 2 weeks,” DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing Jr. reportedly replied to Cua with regards to the appeal. “Tsaka baka by that time alert levels na rin ang Catanduanes.”
In separate letters sent just minutes before the 5 PM deadline that day, the Provincial IATF asked the National IATF not to put Catanduanes under MECQ status for the month of November.
During the emergency meeting at the Office of the Governor earlier that afternoon, municipal mayors and the task force members were informed of the impending declaration of the stricter quarantine status due to the rising COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Also present during the meeting were newly-designated DILG OIC-Assistant Regional Director Uldarico Razal Jr., San Andres Mayor Peter Cua, Virac Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr., Bato Vice Mayor Roy Regalado, San Miguel Councilor Delia Soriao, Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes and other members of the task force who joined in via Zoom.
In a briefing, Provincial Health Officer I Dr. Franchette Amabella Panti said that as of Oct. 25, 2021, the province had recorded a total of 2,135 confirmed cases, with sustained increase noted from Morbidity Week 32 (Aug. 8 to 14, 2021) up to the present reporting week.
From August to September, there was a 48% increase in cases, Dr. Panti bared, with the rate of increase sustained until this October.
As of Oct. 25, there were a total of 364 active cases, of which 86 are asymptomatic, 260 are mild, and 12 are moderate, with only 5 severe cases and one critical patient.
Of the same number, 86% or 312 are on quarantine, with majority isolated in their homes, and 14 admitted in hospitals.
The PHO official also reported that during a two-week period from Oct. 11 to 25, 10 deaths were recorded, for a Case Fatality Ratio (CFR) of 3.3%.
In Resolution No. 02-2021, the Provincial IATF pointed out that the average attack rate of COVID-19 cases in the province as of Oct. 25, 2021 is only 0.77% per 1000 population.
“The reclassification of the Province of Catanduanes to MECQ will greatly affect its economy, considering that the province is still recovering from the impacts of the consecutive typhoons last year,” it stressed, adding that it will also affect several establishments, livelihood and businesses of the people due to stricter protocols and limited movement.
The local IATF said that during the meeting that discussed the consequences of the MECQ classification, the municipal local government units vowed to intensify the implementation and monitoring of the minimum health protocols in the province and ensure the compliance of the community with existing health practices.
A check by the Tribune of the Department of Health (DOH) Center for Health Development daily updates on COVID-19 shows that in the past week, Catanduanes’ attack rate per 100,000 population has hovered above 160 while its positivity rate, or the percentage of swab samples testing positive for the virus, ranged above 40 percent thrice during a four-day period from Oct. 26 to 29.

Mayors wanted “ayuda” before MECQ

All municipal mayors he talked to were against MECQ, Mayor Cua said, citing his town which has used up its emergency funds in providing food assistance during the granular lockdown imposed in barangay Bislig.
The Virac mayor objected to the lockdown as it could no longer afford to finance the logistics of maintaining the MECQ or ECQ.
“We are not prepared,” Sarmiento emphasized in asking the national government to provide assistance first. “Mas marami ang mamatay sa gutom.”
He likewise said that the local police also lacks personnel to enforce the limited movement in the 63 barangays,
“Walang ibang solusyon ang COVID kundi lockdown, basta may makakain,” the chief executive, explaining the LGU’s hesitance on implementing granular lockdowns, with the capital town having five barangays with growing number of cases.
Bato Vice Mayor Regalado, on the other hand, held that lockdowns cannot prevent the spread of COVID-19, asking that funds to be used for “ayuda” be utilized instead for the needs of health facilities.

“Ang problema nasa community”

DILG’s Razal admitted that while the LGUs have implemented mitigation measures, the problem lies with the community especially in far-flung barangays.
“Pagod na ang mga health workers at PNP so we need the participation of the community,” he said in appealing to LGU executives to strengthen implementation of health protocols down to the barangay level.
Agreeing with Razal, Gov. Cua said the problem is maintaining physical distancing as Catandunganons “relaxed” despite the increasing number of cases, citing violations of gamblers and mourners in wakes for the dead in Bato and Virac.
“Dapat maghigpit kita,” he stressed, adding that in northern towns, the people are oblivious to COVID-19 as many are not using face masks at all in their daily activities.
The governor called on mayors to meet their barangay captains regarding the heightened implementation of minimum public health standards.
Mayor Cua said that he has already called barangay captains in the province’s second-biggest town to warn them of possible cases to be filed against them for their lack of cooperation.
“Barangay officials can be charged under IATF guidelines as they are supposed to lead in the campaign against the pandemic,” Dir. Razal stated, adding that some LGUs have charged barangay captains and private individuals for non-compliance.

Surge in new cases blamed on lack of quarantine facilities

Responding to the DILG’s suggestion that those released from hospital quarantine be housed in stepdown facilities, Dr. Palmes admitted that those patients should be taken to Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facilities (TTMF) but many of them, especially schools, were destroyed last year during super typhoon Rolly.
She said that the major cause of the surge in new cases is home quarantine, as evidenced by the high number of close contacts in the same households.
Many households do not have appropriate rooms with separate toilets, she bared, thus, proper hygiene cannot be ensured.
It was pointed out that barangays cannot afford to build TTMFs and while they have daycare centers with their own toilet facility, the structures can only accommodate one person at a time.
The task force also discussed the issue of rising demand for antigen testing as all health facilities are now testing clients regardless of complaints.
Mayor Sarmiento shared his administration’s practice of no longer subjecting to RT-PCR testing entire families who have been locked down “kasi dai na ito makakahawa.”
But DOH provincial officer Dr. Robert John Aquino took exception to the Virac executive’s move, saying that the pandemic will not end if the government does not get the correct data.
“The true perspective of positive RT-PCR tests cannot be known without proper RT-PCR testing coverage,” he stressed.

Problematic contact tracing

Another issue is the lack of resources and system for contact tracing, with one task force member asking who is really in charge of contract tracing.
Responding to a call for LGUs to support Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) with cellphone loads, the Virac mayor said that while BHERT contact tracers are very effective and enthusiastic, the demoralized volunteers slowed down or refused to do their jobs once the DILG-hired contract tracers entered the scene.
The DILG-contracted tracers are paid P18,000 a month while BHERT volunteers are only given a meager honoraria by LGUs despite doing the same job.
The mayors called for the DILG’s funds to be instead allocated for BHERT honoraria as they are more effective and dedicated to the task.
It was also pointed out that DILG contract tracers were trained for only one or two days while BHERTs had undergone more extensive training prior to the pandemic and even during its onset in the province.
Dr. Palmes said that it will be more efficient to sustain the BHERTs as they know better on the ground, having one barangay health worker for every 20 households.
DILG’s Razal promised to raise this concern to the DILG regional director but clarified that the department’s contact tracers are supposed to augment the LGU’s contact tracing teams.
The Incident Management Team commander, Dr. Angel Albert Lamban, averred that while all barangays are mandated to create contact tracing teams, the problem is that many of these are non-functional.
He said that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) should have been the one to deploy the contact tracers hired by DILG to augment the barangay’s teams, as information from the team leaders would be the basis for the implementation of granular lockdowns.
On the other hand, it was bared during the meeting that the province had allocated P1.5 million under the Quick Response Fund (QRF) for the procurement of antiviral drugs such as Remdesivir and Tocilizumab.
However, it could not purchase the drugs as the DOH’s Suggested Retail Price (SRP) for Remdesivir alone is set at P1,000 each, much less than the P5,000 per vial actual retail price if one can get the medicines.
The Bids and Awards Committee could be charged for overpricing if it went ahead with the purchase of the drugs.

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