“Whether the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is extended or modified, we cannot proceed without devoting more efforts towards mass testing of Filipinos. Kung mabilis ang pagkalat ng COVID-19, dapat ay mas mabilis ang pagtest at paggamot natin sa ating mga kababayan.”
This was the remark of Senator Risa Hontiveros, who urged government anew to double its efforts towards mass testing for the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), as the government considers modification or extension of the Luzon-wide ECQ.
“I hope the Department of Health (DOH) takes heed of the ever-growing calls of our health experts, advocates and local officials on the ground for urgent, free and widespread testing in our communities. Quarantines and social distancing, while important, are clearly only part of the solution. We can only end this pandemic if we identify, isolate and treat every person infected with COVID-19,” she said.
The senator made the statement after testing operations in Valenzuela City, and Sitio Zapatera in Cebu City, recently revealed that a number of individuals had been infected with COVID-19 but were ‘asymptomatic,’ or showed no symptoms of the disease. This has led local leaders like Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian and Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto to call for mass testing of all persons to improve government efforts against the pandemic.
Test asymptomatic cases, too
“Malinaw na hindi dapat limitado sa mga taong may malalang sintomas ng COVID-19 ang ginagawang testing ng pamahalaan para matigil ang pagkalat ng sakit na ito. Our testing protocols need to be updated to adapt to emerging realities on the ground, especially if the ECQ is extended to May. Our testing objectives must be expanded to service entire communities, frontliners, the elderly and immunocompromised persons,” she said.
“Given what we now know, government should not be prevented from testing asymptomatic persons, since it is clear that even people without symptoms of COVID-19 can carry and spread the disease among their families and communities. We have to test as many people as we can, as soon as we can,” she added.
At least 10,000 tests a day
To make mass testing possible, Hontiveros said she hopes that government is “inching closer” to its previously stated goal of conducting 10,000 tests per day by the end of April, since the DOH had announced last April 14 that it had been conducting 3,000 tests per day. “Mass testing requires ramped up local production of testing kits and capacitated regional testing centers in the Visayas and Mindanao,” the Senator detailed.
Capacitate regional testing centers
“Everyday, government should be expanding our testing capacity, especially our regional testing centers servicing suspected COVID-19 cases outside of Metro Manila. Now that more cases are being reported in the Visayas and Mindanao, we should prepare and anticipate the increased demand for tests,” she further explained.
She also urged government to closely monitor, and test if possible, people in emerging “disease hotspots” such as prisons, markets and urban poor communities.
“Kapag nagkaroon ng kaso ng COVID-19 sa mga kulungan, palengke, masisikip at matataong lugar kung saan nakatira ang marami nating mahihirap na kababayan, mabilis ang pagkalat ng sakit dahil dikit-dikit ang mga tao. We should stop the disease at the onset by closing in on early cases so that they can be isolated and treated to prevent further transmission,” she said.