BACOLOD CITY (SEPTEMBER 9, 2020) — Local government units here have committed to beef up their prevention and quarantine measures as part of their reinvigorated strategy to slow down the rate of local transmissions.

This was among the highlights of the meeting between members of the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) Team led by National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., and local officials who included Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio “Bong” Lacson and Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia

Galvez was joined by contact tracing czar Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong,  treatment czar Health Undersecretary Dr. Leopoldo Vega, DPWH Undersecretary Emil Sadain, NTF medical adviser Teodoro Herbosa, and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Assistant Secretary Wilben Mayor.


Bold, decisive action

During the discussions, Vega emphasized the need for LGUs to act swiftly and decisively in order to contain the spread of the virus.

“It is very important that we are on the same page. We are currently in MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine). There are only two ways — decide to escalate or de-escalate the situation,” Vega said.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte placed Bacolod under the MECQ, one of the government’s strictest quarantine classifications, following the recommendation made by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases.

According to data from the Department of Health Region VI, Bacolod has 1,364 active cases as of September 9, up from 1,263 recorded the previous day. 

The city has the most number of cases in Western Visayas, followed by Negros Occidental, which has 840 active cases as of the same period.

Leonardia, who earlier appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to deploy additional medical frontliners to the city, welcomed the CODE Team’s visit. 

He said that with the guidance provided by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and his deputy, retired MGen. Melquiades Feliciano, Bacolod’s COVID-19 situation is expected to significantly improve. 

“We see the full force of the government here. You are the people who can help and guide us. We are here to listen and be guided by you,” Leonardia said.

Cimatu and Feliciano were instrumental in bringing down the number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City. They successfully oversaw the area’s transition from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to its current modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) status.

For his part, Gov Lacson assured the CODE Team officials that LGUs in the region will work together to decisively address the health situation in the area.


Cebu’s lesson

Dr. Bryan Lim, one of the medical advisors in Cebu, also shared his experience in treating COVID-19 patients.

“(Sa dami ng pasyente), may time po na sa kotse na po ako natutulog, tapos gigisingin na lang ako kapag may emergency— and it’s usually somebody dying. Sana wag po mangyari ‘yung ganun sa Bacolod, na naoverwhelm na rin talaga ang hospitals,” Lim, who accompanied Presidential Adviser for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino in Bacolod, recounted.

Lim, whose father passed away from COVID-19, stressed that Bacolod City should learn from the lessons of Cebu.

“Ironic po that I am a medical practitioner, and my dad died from COVID-19. Wala man lang ako nagawa. It’s very painful sa part ko, kaya ayoko po sanang maulit yung ganitong scenario,” he said. 

Cebu City was also placed under ECQ from June 16 to July 16 due to the spike in COVID-19 cases and high mortality rate of patients.  

The situation improved following the implementation of aggressive testing and contact tracing, as well as the augmentation of quarantine facilities, and the ramping up of treatment efforts.

Data collection in the city was also enhanced to help policy makers decide in real time the kind of interventions that had to be implemented. 


Holistic approach

Galvez emphasized that in order to effectively address the COVID-19 situation in Bacolod, a holistic and integrated approach must be carried out.

He said that it is imperative for leaders of various sectors in Bacolod City and the entire Negros island to act in solidarity, saying that this unity of effort will be the key in strengthening the province’s COVID-19 response efforts.

He said hard lockdowns are not sustainable in the long run since the economy will be greatly affected. That is why it is crucial to localize the implementation of the National Action Plan, which focuses on the key aspects of prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and reintegration.

During a meeting with Bacolod’s business sector, Galvez shared the winning formula employed in areas such as the National Capital Region, Baguio City, and Davao region.

“Leadership is really key. Halimbawa po sa Davao, kapag sinabi ng LGU na ganito ang gagawin natin, which are based on collective decisions, iyon po ang gagawin. Everybody follows. Mayroong unity of effort and peoples’ participation sa local government,” Galvez emphasized 

“So dito po, kung gagayahin po natin ang nangyayari sa ibang bansa na nag-aaway ang magkakabilang partido, wala pong mangyayari,” Galvez urged.

“Bacolod cannot live alone by itself because you will be overwhelmed. You have to work with the province and other adjacent municipalities.  Politically, we have to be united. This is one fight, and our enemy is the virus,” he added. 

Galvez also stressed the need for LGUs to scale up their prevention measures, an approach that has enabled once high-risk localities to effectively curb local transmissions. 

“Our main focus is prevention — to follow the minimum health standards. If the people will not learn, we will go back to stricter controls, and ECQ and MECQ are not sustainable. Many will die of hunger,” Galvez said.

“Yes, we still need to ramp the capacity of our healthcare system. However, we need first to change the behavior of the people,” he added.

In addressing the issue of home quarantine, the chief implementer said this practice should be carefully restudied. The concern is currently being discussed by the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

To date, there are currently 486 COVID-positive patients in Bacolod who are under home quarantine. The cases significantly increased from 78 positive cases due to the practice of home quarantine.

“We have to build up our quarantine facilities. At least 50% of the public schools can be converted to quarantine facilities,” Galvez said.

For his part, Magalong also urged the LGUs to boost their contact tracing efforts to ensure all infected individuals can be tested and taken out from the community and brought to government-designated quarantine facilities.

While Bacolod City currently has a 1:8 contact tracing ratio, there is still a need to widen the net. Ideally, he said the ratio should be 1:37, meaning per positive patient, 37 people they came in close contact with need to be tested. 

Magalong, who conducted a lecture on contact tracing in Bacolod City, said that aggressive contact tracing can be effectively implemented by LGUs without relying too much on the national government.


Beefing up quarantine facilities 

Public Works and Highways Undersecretary Emil Sadain, who represented Public Works and isolation czar Secretary Mark Villar, inked several Memorandum of Agreements to build more than 300 hospital beds and dormitories for healthcare workers.

The agreements were signed between the LGUs of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, DOH, and  DPWH.

For Bacolod City, Sadain said the DPWH will be constructing two sets of 32-bed quarantine facilities, as well as build a 32-bed offsite dormitory for healthcare workers.

For the entire Negros Occidental province, the DPWH will also construct quarantine facilities equipped with 61 beds, as well as offsite dormitories with a 192-bed capacity.

The national government also brought 4,000 KN95, 4,000 surgical masks, 5,000 PPEs, 5,000 test kits, a PCR Machine and automated RT-PCR machine.  The CODE Team also brought 10,000 masks for public distribution.###