According to experts, clusters are the main engine transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why knowing where, when, and why they happen through effective contact tracing could help curb the transmission rate while the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet widely available.
In a series of executive coaching sessions with the provincial governments of Agusan del Sur, Aklan, and Bataan, former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit highlighted the importance of mapping out contact tracing and utilizing the results as part of risk communication.
Creating visual stories
Dr. Dayrit, also a trustee of the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), pointed out that an effective contact tracing entails testing all contacts, identifying and isolating symptomatic and asymptomatic contacts, locating clusters in the barangays, and understanding the transmission patterns.
Citing a good practice in Taguig City, Dr. Dayrit recommends developing the results of contact tracing into visual stories to warn people of how COVID-19 transmission happens. For example, a gym instructor conducting classes without a mask reportedly infected 21 people (who further infected other people) in three days.
The online sessions held on April 23 and 28, and May 7 were part of ZFF’s Provincial Leadership and Governance Program (PLGP). The program aims to prepare provinces for Universal Health Care systems integration.
In all three provinces, people’s complacency in following minimum health standards has resulted in super spreading events and clustering of cases.
Agusan del Sur has eased border controls but is counting on stricter implementation of health protocols as its best defense against COVID-19. The provincial government distributed 85,000 face masks throughout the province and drafted an ordinance penalizing people who do not follow minimum health standards.
A more personal approach to enforce the minimum health standards is needed in Bataan, as the province’s main challenge is the authorized persons outside of residence (APOR) returning on weekends. Dr. Dayrit suggested the governor reach out to each family to make the message more personal and appealing to them. The local leaders are also looking into a policy that will allow residents working outside Bataan to go home only after doing a mandatory quarantine.
Meanwhile, Aklan is already on the right track when it comes to contact tracing. But the province still wants to focus on effective messaging to avoid super spreader events in places such as Boracay. Another challenge is the financing of treatment for COVID-19 patients as reimbursements from PhilHealth are too slow.