Editorial: Noise

Case in point. In a social media post before things went awry for him, then National Task Force adviser Dr. Tony Leachon pointed out Talisay City’s “high growth rate of cases,” citing doubling figures within 13 days, and added it was “really prudent” to place the city under MECQ.

The accompanying chart, however, caught Talisay City Mayor Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas’s attention. It showed that his city had a zero percent in case recovery. As of last count, June 17, Talisay had logged 50 recoveries.

Gullas said he was surprised by the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to revert Talisay City’s status to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) when other cities under general community quarantine (GCQ) have, in fact, more cases. To date, Talisay has 57 active cases, Mandaue City has 445 and Lapu-Lapu City has 189.

Days later, Leachon was asked to resign, after mounting pressure for him to align his public statements with government’s official messaging. He later said he could not stay mum on issues he thought were for the best interest of the public.

Leachon cited three major reasons: the Department of Health’s “lack of sense of urgency, problems in Covid data management and transparency in communication process.”

A day before President Rodrigo Duterte announced the new round of quarantine status levels, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella expressed confidence that the city would not revert to ECQ, He cited Cebu City’s high rate of recovery and low mortality rate; on both barometers, he said we beat the national rates. A good sector heaved a sigh of relief with the mayor coming short of assuring that better days were supposedly coming for the denizens. Rather strangely, the opposite happened. The IATF reverted Cebu City to ECQ status.

In the virtual presser following the President’s announcement, Press Secretary Harry Roque Jr. cited figures that explain the reversion. He pointed out three barometers: high critical care utilization rate, case doubling and widespread transmission. Nothing of what Labella highlighted in his optimistic forecast were ever mentioned.

So what gives?

We have been noticing not a few conflicting figures in Roque’s presser and in the official versions released to local media. Some of these discrepancies have to do with the health care system capacities in Cebu, such as for instance on the number of hospital beds—regular, isolation and intensive care units—dedicated to Covid-19 patients. There are also discrepancies in reported occupancies.

Should it be rather ideal at this point that the mayor reviews all information from the ground before even recommending a quarantine status shift? Perhaps, an executive order obliging our private hospitals to disclose real-time information on occupancy and bed capacities even as they work on supposed expansion?

Leachon’s statement apparently gives us a glimpse of where all the muddling could be found: “Covid data management and transparency in communication process.”