CEBU, Philippines — Strategic mass testing will be undertaken in Cebu City, Mandaue City, and Lapu-Lapu City starting May 4, 2020 as part of a unified effort to quell the effect of the coronavirus disease here.
The three urbanized cities are the most densely populated areas in Cebu island. As of yesterday, Cebu City has a total of 548 positive cases, Mandaue City has 17, while Lapu-Lapu has 34.
The said strategic testing will involve 10 percent of the total number of households per barangay of every city. Based on data from the city health departments of the three cities, a total of 46,896 individuals will be tested.
“A total of 33 teams composed of nurses and medical technologists will be deployed to conduct sample collections at the barangay with the help of our BHWs and BHERTS. These samples will be sent to our partner laboratories to be tested using RDTs,” said Department of Health-7 Director Jaime Bernadas.
He said there will be an expected exponential rise of positive cases once testing begins.
“When we do this, we should expect a rise in positive cases given that the virus is highly transmissible. We fear that possibility but it should not be a cause for panic. Knowing our status is a step towards a solution and is way better than fighting this disease blindly,” Bernadas said.
“This program aims to identify the COVID-19 cases in the three cities at the community level, as well as to effectively cohort the individuals in order to impede the transmission of the virus. It involves a systematic testing of individuals at the barangay level with the use of FDA-approved rapid test kits as a conduit to PCR testing, as well as the establishment of Barangay Isolation Centers in public schools across the cities and we also have the old Sacred Heart School Bayanihan Field Center, the IEC Bayanihan Field Center and the Cebu CityQuarantine Center,” he added.
The mass testing is part of the “Project BalikBuhay” initiated by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) in collaboration with DOH and the three local government units.
OPAV, in a statement, said the initiative is one way of gradually re-opening the community through a calibrated, scientific, and evidence-based transition from Enhanced Community Quarantine to General Community Quarantine with May 21 as the target date.
“There is hope for everyone with this plan,” said OPAV Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino in a separate interview.
Bernadas the individuals tested will be required to stay home while waiting for the test result – whether they will be subjected to confirmatory testing using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Should the PCR test yield a positive result, the patient will now be transferred to the barangay isolation center (BIC) for isolation and monitoring.
Bernadas explained that the strategic testing will be done in 10 days and can last until May 20.
“We will now have the scientificdata upon which we can anchor our decision to either continue with our ECQ or transition to GCQ,” he said.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said he is thankful to OPAV for the program, which includes “a study that is calibrated, scientific, evidence-based, and data driven.”
Councilor Raymond Garcia said the 19 BICs in Cebu City are ready to take in patients while the Cebu City Quarantine Center and the Bayanihan Field Centers are also in place.
Mandaue Mayor Jonas Cortes and Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan also said their BICs and quarantine facilities are already in place.
With continuous testing comes zone tagging, although DOH-7 is yet to determine the exact classifications – Red Zone (high cases), Orange Zone (moderate cases), or Green Zone (zero cases.
Labella said the program will be beneficial as the city takes its next steps as it is “calibrated, scientific, evidence-based, and data driven.”
Cortes emphasized the importance of cooperation among the LGUs and agencies.
“Kung mangutanamo, is it a good plan? Yes, it is a good plan. We have a choice, a choice to make it better kungkitamagtinabangay. Dili sayon, dilimahimongamagmalampusonangatongmganagkalain-laingahensiyakungdilinatotabangan, it needs tobe a collective effort,” he said.
Chan said he is confident that the battle can be won if everyone cooperates.
“We are sure that we will succeed in fighting this war against Covid-19 because we will work as one and therefore we will heal as one,” he said.
Should results of the community-based testing be favorable for businesses to resume operations, the private sector will complement this program by having their employees tested prior to re-opening their businesses along with the establishment of workplace safety measures against COVID-19.
Business sectors from the major Chambers of Commerce from the three local government units also expressed their support in shouldering the cost of the testing for their employees oncebusinesses will re-open.
Even when Cebu transitions to GCQ to ECQ, public transportation will still be limited.
He said 200 buses will ply Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu to cater to the riding public, especially once businesses will start to re-open.
He explained that bus operators that are accredited by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board-7 are the ones that will be allowed to ply the streets of Cebu.
Regional Development Council-7 Chairperson Kenneth Cobonpue said there will be criteria for low risk businesses that will be categorized as controlled work environment, and will be implemented easily with mitigating measures.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Councilor Jerry Guardo hopes the construction of a certified COVID-19 testing center in Cebu City pushes through following the move for a rapid mass testing, not only in the key cities of Cebu, but for the entire province.
Right now, there is only one certified testing facility in Cebu, which is the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center.
Guardo said, his proposal to build a testing center has been approved by the City Council and it is now up to the executive body to acton it.
Guardo said he anticipates further delay of test results in Cebu City once mass testing in the other areas in Cebu Province and even in other areas in Central Visayas takes place.
“Na-foresee nakoangkaron, what if angkaningsa province mag start na sad silag mass testing? Like naa nay confirmed saCarcar, expect mag mass testing sad nisila.SaBantayan Island, there is also confirmed na positive, so kung mag dungannig mass testing sila together saLapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Talisay andother municipalities, mudagsagyuddirisa Vicente Sotto tanan, so kita Cebu city, ma-secondary na ta, what if madelaynabitawang results?,” Guardo said.
Guardo said they will make sure the testing facility will be accredited by the Department of Health- Reseach Institute for Tropical Medicine(DOH-RITM)
“This would cater specifically sa Cebu City residents kay we have more than a million nga population. Kung naana ta ani, ang Sotto, mas ma-focus nasilasa Cebu Province and other provinces,” Guardo said.
He said the budget for the project will still come from the City Council’s appropriated P1 billion COVID-19 fund.
The city government has used up only around half of the budget allocation of P100 million for the Cebu City Quarantine Center at the North Reclamation project. JMO (FREEMAN)