Literatus: COVID-19: Beating the catching up game

Zosimo T. Literatus

AS THIS column predicted, the lockdown in China would not be as airtight as vacuums. Today, COVID-19 has become a global menace, penetrating even the United States.

The doubling of the cases reported in the Philippines indicate that our health authorities are not in control. Somewhere in our communities are Filipinos and non-Filipino visitors with no symptoms but might be highly contagious, who the Department of Health (DOH) failed to detect.

Of course, DOH personnel are not expected to detect non-symptomatic persons using temperature “handguns.” That instrument simply cannot do that. However, our health authorities can still do something to beat the catching up game it is playing with COVID-19 in our midst. This approach will be very difficult to do but can be done if the DOH works with other government agencies, such as the Bureau of Immigration and other relevant agencies.

The only chance we have right now is to catch up with the non-symptomatic persons among us. If we cannot catch up, then the only option is to lockdown cities with positive cases of COVID-19, at least to contain those who have been in contact with these patients. However, this is effective only if these asymptomatic persons have not left the cities first before the lockdown is initiated.

Well, medical science cannot help us because surveillance based on symptoms cannot detect the asymptomatic. However, strategic movements can.

The key to this strategy is the travel history of Filipinos and non-Filipino visitors. This must be the focal point in a parallel tracing of potential asymptomatic persons in the country. This requires many health personnel to do the tracing.

However, this strategy can be made more efficient if travel information can be readily searched for travel histories. This, however, assumes that our travel databases recorded travel histories.

Nevertheless, even if travel histories are not recorded in our database, all arriving flyers may be the starting point for the tracing effort. A DOH official talking to them individually can be more persuasive than a general call to self-quarantine. The problem with self-quarantine is that an asymptomatic person will have no reason to self-quarantine.

However, a person with known travel history to countries now reporting cases of COVID-19 may be persuaded to self-quarantine or stay in the government quarantine facilities. This recommendation may sound impractical. However, it is only impractical if it will not be made actionable.

This strategy is also very difficult to implement. Yet, it is the measure of our health authorities’ commitment to protect our people from COVID-19 before it is too late.