THE Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has decided to implement stricter health protocol in grocery stores and supermarkets in Cebu City to limit the number of customers and prevent Covid-19 transmissions.
This, after finding that in the last 14 days, at least 30 Covid-19 patients had gone to grocery stores.
The EOC also plans to prohibit senior citizens and those below 21 years old from entering supermarkets and grocery stores, pursuant to Mayor Edgardo Labella’s executive order stating that these two age groups must observe Labella’s round-the-clock stay-at-home order.
City Councilor Joel Garganera, who heads the Cebu City EOC, said prohibiting the senior citizens and persons age 21 years old and below is up to Labella, who is expected to issue another executive order for this matter.
As mass gathering is considered a superspreader of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease 2019, health experts said social distancing must be observed in places frequented by people.
On Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, Garganera met with 33 grocery store and supermarket operators; they agreed that the stores must only allow customer entry at 50 percent of their maximum capacity.
The EOC found out that the common errand of the 30 Covid-19 patients was buying food supplies in the past two weeks.
Garganera, deputy chief implementer of the EOC, said operators must provide an area and chairs for their customers waiting for their turn to do their grocery.
Private marshals must be deployed in stores; they must make sure that shoppers are properly wearing their masks and face shields and observing social distancing.
Contact tracing forms
Also, the issue on some customers who might provide wrong information on contact tracing forms was addressed during the meeting.
Garganera said security guards must check that the information on the customers’ identification cards match the entry in their contact tracing forms. The persons who do not give correct information must be barred from getting inside the stores.
The EOC discovered in the past weeks that there were individuals who wrote fake details on their contact tracing forms, with some using the names of superheroes.
The other duty of the guards is disinfecting the pens for the next user.
Another requirement for grocery and supermarket operators is the posting outside their stores of the provisions of Republic Act 11332 (the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act) to remind their customers of the need to properly fill out the forms upon their entry.
The EOC also asked operators to encode the details in the contact tracing forms and keep their own record. In case there is a need for contact tracing, it would be easier for both the management and contact tracing teams to locate individuals.
Garganera learned during the meeting that most store operators do not keep records of their customers’ information stated in their contact tracing forms.
The operators and management of stores must be serious in keeping a database of their customers, he said.
Garganera said they also plan to bar senior citizens and persons below 21 years old from entering supermarkets and groceries, as they are the most vulnerable to contract Covid-19.
In the Executive Order (EO) No. 89 of Mayor Edgardo Labella, a 24-hour stay-at-home order is still imposed on all persons 60 years old and above and those below 21 years old.
But the said executive order also exempts senior citizens and individuals aged below 21 years old if they go out of their houses to obtain essential goods and services, and those who are working in industries and offices permitted to operate under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
Labella is set to issue a new executive order to settle this matter.
Longer operating hours
Garganera said the EOC may urge Labella to allow longer operating hours if supermarket and grocery operators are compliant with the additional public health protocol.
EO No. 89 states that the maximum operating hours for groceries, convenience stores, markets and drug stores are up to 10 p.m.
Garganera said strict implementation of health and safety protocols is necessary inside grocery stores and supermarkets in anticipation of the Christmas and New Year rush.
Cebu City, all the local government units in Cebu and in other provinces of Central Visayas are under MGCQ from Sept. 1 to 30.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) 7 is confident that the whole Central Visayas will stay under MGCQ come Oct. 1.
MGCQ “refers to the transition phase between GCQ and the new normal, when the following temporary measures are relaxed and become less necessary: limiting movement and transportation, the regulation of operating industries, and the presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols,” according to the July 16, 2020 amended IATF omnibus guidelines.
According to the IATF, new normal refers “to the emerging behaviors, situations, and minimum public health standards that will be institutionalized in common or routine practices and remain even after the pandemic while the disease is not totally eradicated through means such as widespread immunization. These include actions that will become second nature to the general public as well as policies such as bans on large gatherings that will continue to remain in force.”
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, DOH 7 spokesperson for Covid-19 updates, said the region has been able to flatten its Covid-19 cases.
As of Sept. 28, the DOH 7 reported Central Visayas had 20,855 total confirmed Covid-19 cases. Of the number, 17,934 had recovered from respiratory illness, leaving only 1,652 active cases.
The region had logged a total of 1,269 mortalities.
Far from new normal
Loreche said the health agency will not recommend to place the region under the new normal setting as yet. Placing Central Visayas in a much relaxed setting, there might be a new surge of Covid-19 cases.
She feared that once the community quarantine will be lifted, the people might go back to what they used to do before the Covid-19 pandemic.
When asked if the region is capable of being placed under the new normal, Loreche said the region is still far from it as there are still new cases of Covid-19 infections in most parts of Central Visayas. (JJL)