Lopez urges adoption of Baguio contact tracing efforts

THE chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development on Wednesday said adopting the efficient contact tracing model in Baguio City will help boost government’s battle to quell coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

This was pointed out by Manila Rep. Manny Lopez, panel chairman, during his committee’s virtual hearing via Zoom on the assessment of the contact tracing, testing, and quarantine efforts of the government for Metro Manila.

“As we have exhausted the bluntest tool available to us to combat this very deadly disease, and as the nation cannot afford any form of strict quarantines much longer, we must now turn to the next best weapon against COVID-19, and that is an effective contact tracing strategy,” said Lopez. Lopez cited a study in Korea on an effective model of contact tracing which showed that in a small community with 30 infections, tracers were able to immediately identify and get in touch with 2000 close contacts.

He said these people were tested and asked to isolate and of those 2000, 12 turned out to be COVID-19 positive with one being immediate family members of the original 30. “This is such a daunting and seemingly impossible task,” according to Lopez. “With the strict compliance to isolate of all those involved, the disease was completely eradicated in a span of two months.

Such is the power of an effective contact tracing strategy.” Lopez said “the situation where the number of cases is now about to reach 200,000 would have been avoided if at the start, we panicked at less than 60 cases and almost instinctively we decided to hide in a lockdown.” “I personally think that the last 6 months we have spent in this war, have made us better warriors, that instead of resorting to Enhanced Community Quarantine, which we no longer can afford, we now resort to enhanced testing, contact tracing, and quarantine efforts,” he said. During the hearing, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong lamented that local government units (LGUs) were too late in valuing contact tracing to eliminate COVID-19. Magalong, the contact tracing czar and former chief of the Criminal and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP), pointed out that many had failed to realize the need to establish an efficient contact tracing at the onset of the pandemic. “LGU failed to realize the value and significance of contact tracing,” Magalong told the panel. Despite this, Magalong said the government has a passing mark of 7 out of 10 in its contact tracing campaign. Magalong said the government should work hard to attain an ideal rate of 1:37 for a better contact tracing.

“Our contact tracing has improved but it’s still insufficient,” Magalong said. “I would say it’s 7 out of 10 when we were hoping for an 8 or a 9.” In Metro Manila, Magalong noted that the contact tracing ratio of 1:3 from July 28 to August 3 has improved to 1:5 from August 11 to18. Magalong admitted that some LGUs fail in the slowing down the spread of the virus as they are overwhelmed by large and increasing number of daily cases and have been prioritizing relief operations and the establishment of isolation facilities over increasing their contact tracing capacities.

He blamed lack of funds behind the problem because contact tracers lose morale and fail to perform their tasks – a problem which the government aims to address under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

“The System has responded well but it’s not enough. We need to enhance further the contact tracing efficiency ratio of LGUs. LGUs need to be reinforced with funds,” said Magalong.