Magalong admits challenges in COVID-19 contact tracing, says LGUs should be 'creative'

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 02 2021 02:02 PM | Updated as of Oct 02 2021 02:20 PM

Commuters sign contact tracing forms before taking the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) in Pasay City on August 3, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Commuters sign contact tracing forms before taking the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) in Pasay City on August 3, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— The Philippines' contact tracing czar on Saturday lamented the sorry state of the country's COVID-19 contact tracing system as he admitted that budget constraints, as well as the high number of COVID-19 cases might have contributed to the problem.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong asked localities to be "creative" in sourcing contact tracers as the country's contact tracing efficiency ratio is currently at 1:4 to 1:5. This means that for every person testing positive for the virus, only 4 to 5 of their close contacts get traced.

Two months ago, the efficiency ratio was at around 1:9, he said. 

"Alam mo, talagang challenge talaga itong contact tracing. Una, kulang talaga ang contact tracers natin because of budgetary constraints," the official said in a public briefing.

(Contact tracing has been a challenge. First, our contact tracers remain limited because of budgetary constraints)

"Kaya kailangan talaga mag-innovate, maging creative 'yung ating mga local governments, source more contact tracers from their own resources," he added.

(Local governments should be creative.)

This may also be the reason why the country's testing rate is low, as this will at least give a picture of an area's COVID-19 situation. 

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The World Health Organization (WHO) also stressed earlier this year that contact tracing is more important than enforcing lockdowns, which the Philippines has been implementing since the onset of the pandemic. 

"Unfortunately, sabi ko nga, talagang mababa (our tracing is low). Nakakalungkot nga (it is sad) na despite the fact that we continue to capacitate our local government units, it seems that some of our LGUs cannot address this surge," he said.

"Siguro nao-overwhelm sila sa daily number of cases, second is kulang talaga ang kanilang contact tracers, another is kulang ang kanilang encoders, kaya kulang ang mga data."

(Maybe they are overwhelmed with the daily number of cases. Second is they do not have enough contact tracers. Another thing is their encoders are also limited, thus the lack of data)

The Philippines posted over half a million new COVID-19 cases in September alone, making it the worst month for the country's fight against the pandemic. 

On Friday, the DOH posted a 21.3 percent positivity rate, the lowest in nearly 2 months or since Aug. 9. This is still 4 times higher than the benchmark of the WHO. 

The agency is also investigating reports that COVID-19 testing has decreased nationwide and in Metro Manila in the past week, which is why it cautioned the public from interpreting the relatively low number of new infections as an organic decline.

At least 21.3 million of the country's target 77 million people have been fully vaccinated so far against the virus, while 24.2 million have been partially vaccinated from the disease.