Contact tracing methods up for revamp after efforts found lacking

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Contact tracing methods up for revamp after efforts found lacking
Processing of remaining locally stranded individuals continue until past midnight of June 27, 2020 as thousands are still housed inside the baseball and football stadiums of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The government is getting ready to change its approach to contact tracing, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said Thursday after finding that less than 1% of 600 local government units have good systems in place for it.

Magalong, who has been designated 'contact tracing czar', told ABS-CBN that this data was gathered through an online diagnostic questionaire sent to 1,900 LGUs.

"Based on the 600 [responses] and the data we gathered, only around 0.68% of them have good contact tracing," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He said that he found the average contacts traced per patient to be severely lacking.

"There should be a benchmark because what's happening now, the average contacts traced per patient is around eight. It can't be that we just trace eight per patient, that will pile up," he said in Filipino.

Urban centers such as Metro Manila should be tracing an average of 30 to 37 close contacts per patient, according to Magalong.  

"If you only trace eight per patient...assuming that [the close contacts are 37, then that means 29 are unaccounted for," he further emphazised in Filipino.

Magalong added that the current process for contact tracing will be changed as it centers on conducting interviews but lacks in data analytics.

"The data must be analyzed, that’s why we have analysts, we included technical support. Data encoders are needed to finish the job of interviewers, our so-called contact tracers. They need to be capacitated. They need to learn cognitive interviewing skills," he said in FIlipino.

Magalong further explained that contact tracing teams are comprised of one health worker and one law enforcer and they are employed relative to the number of COVID-19 cases per area.

In addition to conducting online surveys, Magalong said he has conducted a series of training sessions with LGUs in Metro Manila along with separate webinars with their local chief executives.

Still no funds for additional contact tracers 

Though it has been pushing for the hiring of an additional 50,000 contact tracers since June, the Department of Interior and Local Government said it has not yet received the funds necessary to do so.

"No funds have yet been released by [the Department of Budget and Management] to us. We are hoping that same will be released to us next month," DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya told Philstar.com on Thursday.

During a Laging Handa briefing on July 10, Malaya said in Filipino: "If it were up to us, we would have hired the additional contact tracers yesterday, we all know how valuable contact tracing teams are right now."

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on July 16 said that the country currently has a total of 65,574 contact tracers nationwide.

The government previously announced that it was planning to spend P11.7 billion to hire 136,000 contact tracers for at least three months.

READ: Government ‘quite late’ in implementing contact tracing infra — Leachon | WHO sounds alarm over 'slow' contact tracing efforts in the Philippines 

As it stands, the country has been under community quarantine for 135 days — the longest quarantine period in the world.

Cases are still rising, with the Health department logging over 2,000 cases new cases four days in a row from last Thursday to last Sunday.

On Wednesday, the DOH placed the national caseload at 85,486 and fatalities at 1,962.

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