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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, June 13, 2020
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with Matè Espina

To test or not to test

Rock & Refuge

The issue whether we need to test returning residents or not has been put in the spotlight with the controversy surrounding Patient No. 19 of Bacolod, a Locally Stranded Individual (LSI) from Manila who was unfortunately released from the quarantine facility prior to his test results that turned out positive.

In an interview yesterday, Mayor Bing Leonardia explained that under the guidelines, the city government could not hold those in the quarantine facilities beyond the 14-day mandatory stay as in the case of Patient 19. Since Bacolod does not have its own COVID laboratory yet, swabs from Bacolod repatriates are dispatched to the Iloilo laboratory which takes its own sweet time to process our tests.

Thus, when Patient 19 finished his 14-days quarantine, he was sent home despite his pending results. Probably because he was confident that he was free of the virus, the patient had a celebratory drink with friends on his homecoming. Initially there were talks that he even played basketball with neighborhood friends, but this was eventually denied by the village chief.

Now that he is found positive, the city government is undertaking massive contact tracing and was forced to lockdown the patient’s family in their home until they too are swabbed and their results return negative.

There are too many questions that are being raised as an offshoot of this incident. Granting that the mandatory quarantine is only 14 days, can’t the city government use its police powers to detain repatriates until their results come out? Of course the issue is not solely with the city government but with the Iloilo laboratory. But to ensure safety, the city should not have allowed anyone without results to go home.

Now, the city will actually be spending more by swabbing those who may have been contaminated by Patient 19. But the city government can be faulted too for their failure in impressing upon these repatriates their responsibility to ensure, not only the safety of their families, but the community they live in.

The case of Patient 19 will hopefully not follow that case in Cebu City where a drinking spree of a positive patient resulted to the lockdown of the entire barangay and started the spike of their coronavirus cases.

Although Mayor Bing and Gov. Bong Lacson sent an appeal to extend again the resumption of commercial flights until after June 30, if the national IATF will not allow it, we may be welcoming home thousands of repatriates by next week.

When that happens, quarantining them may be impossible and we can only pray that none will bring home the virus, which is unlikely as all our new cases came from repatriates – both the overseas workers and returning residents.

The province is better off with a functioning lab at the Teresita L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital in Silay City, thus they get immediate results within 2-3 days, sometimes within the day, if you are a provincial official of course.

Dr. Julius Drilon told me yesterday that the CLMMRH laboratory is in its last phase of construction and may be operational by first week of July. However, since that is not yet ready, I cannot understand why the city government never made any representation before the province to allow the processing of swabs from Bacolod repatriates.

The Silay lab can process some 150 swabs in a day and I don’t think returning residents in the province reach that much on a daily basis thus a little common sense from Bacolod could have worked in their favor. Unfortunately during this pandemic, it seems that the divide between Bacolod and Negros Occidental became evident, especially when their policies clashed in relation to the quarantine status.

Then again, there is something questionable about the statement of Gov. Bong that the province would rather centralize procurement of test kits from monetary donations from LGUs at an approximate cost of P3,500 per test.

There have been business groups and individuals that are proposing to donate RT-PCR test kits which they can procure for only P1,700-P1,900. Under the scheme, if a private entity donates 1,000 test kits for example, half of the kits will be for public use, while the other half will be for individuals that they will nominate for testing.

In this scheme, the province will only procure reagents for the lab and if need be, they can charge a minimal fee to offset the cost of that. A little birdie also told me that they are being referred to a restaurateur as the contact person for test kits procurement which makes it all the more fishy as food business has nothing to do with medical supplies.

In frustration, some of these business groups negotiated with Dr. Drilon who is more than happy with this arrangement and will not even charge any processing fees for as long as there will be test kits for the public.

We are in a pandemic and will be in this state for a long time. Let us not capitalize on the situation by profiting on this.*

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