Editorial: ‘Frontline’ officials, yes

WE HAVE over 300 representatives and 24 senators. To have all of them and their family members tested, we’d probably use up a big share of our test kits on hand.

A stagger of stories showed a handful of top officials getting tested for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and quickly set social media on fire, giving birth to the hashtag #NoToVIPTesting trending on Twitter. The privileged tests, netizens say, deprive not a few frontline health workers the chance to get the much needed diagnostic. It clearly violates the Department of Health’s (DOH) triage algorithm for the disease.

Sen. Francis Tolentino apologized Sunday, March 22, 2020, for getting ahead of the line in the Covid-19 test. Earlier, he broadcasted on social media the results of his tests—negative. In his apology, he said: “My colds and dry cough persisted during my self-quarantine, thus I took a test, after my (self-prescribed) cough medication appeared insufficient after four days,” he said. The senator later deleted his post.

According to another report, at least 34 government officials demanded that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) of the DOH prioritize their tests, including their asymptomatic family members. The tests were conducted at the expense of persons who displayed real symptoms. Some RITM staffers said that was precisely what happened to adult cardiology fellow Israel Bactol, whose test results were delayed for four days because the officials’ request had to be accommodated first. Bactol succumbed to Covid-19 on March 21.

Then another image flies off on social media—that of lawmakers holding up blown-up messages that place them among the ranks of frontliners. We must stay at home for their sake, it said.

So what role do our lawmakers play in this time of crisis that we need them securely healthy than the rest of us?

Government is that one single entity that holds the state’s largest resource, and it is but crucial that it act as efficiently as possible in unpredictable times such as now. We need huge policy responses as the need arises, and we need them as quickly as possible. Government has always been that sluggish dinosaur as far as acting on public concerns, an inherent trait of a thickened bureaucracy, but we need a moving one at least. The last thing we need is a sick official whose absence will leave considerable void in the workflow.

So, perhaps, there is some truth to the claim that they are, in a way, frontliners as well. We need policy direction. We need top-level crisis managers, clarity amid the noise, quick fund releases, and those things can’t be expedited by bed-bound officials.

Not all of them share the same urgency though. There are officials whose functions are those of frontliners, so maybe, yes, they can get their tests.