Salceda calls for mandatory mass testing of PUIs, more intensive contact tracing
As the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine over Luzon nears its end, House Ways and Means chairman Joey Sarte Salceda has called for mandatory mass testing for persons under investigation, as well as more intensive contact tracing of people they have intermingled with by local government units.
"We need to do 200,000 tests before we can entertain any thought of lifting the lockdown. Our intensive care units capacity also needs to be increased to 20,000,” said Salceda, adding that mass testing will allow government decision-makers to prioritize key areas for intervention.
He has also requested the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to prepare for “waves of active infection” which could overwhelm the public health sector if left unanticipated.
“While we have done close to 20,000 COVID-19 tests, we are far from the minimum with a capacity for only 1,500 per day with all laboratories in already,” he added.
A noted economist and a known emergency and disaster risk reduction expert, Salceda and his team have independently been consulting with professionals in disease outbreak science and continuously monitoring various simulations on the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was the first in Congress to call for a lockdown in the early days of the outbreak.
The lawmaker said his team has seen conservative simulations and observed “simulations similar to what Governor Cuomo of New York has often cited, where they think some 40 percent of the population may get infected. Estimates range from several thousands to a few millions.”
“We don’t treat them like gospel truth, but based evolving trends, there are two key observations that appear in all the simulations. One, ECQ works to a significant degree, but two, it is not feasible to do it forever,” Salceda said.
“We will have to lift the ECQ at some point, but we cannot afford to lift it at our current testing rate, otherwise we would be forced to reimpose it again. Doing so prematurely would have graver consequences – harder to reboot the economy, more time before we can recover, and limited scope for future growth.”
“Mass testing is thus essential. I understand that we can’t do it for the entire population, but we can begin random testing, and contact tracing of those who are positive by the LGUs concerned. We need that data for sound decision-making,” he added.
The lawmaker also laid down other measures that he is proposing, including extending the President’s emergency powers on certain aspects, in quarterly increments, as necessary to carry out a recovery plan; extending the lockdown in increments of 15 days, depending on the health outcomes; identifying high-risk locations (due to prevalence of co-morbidities, risky age profile, and dense households) for intensified interventions and surveillance; and considering class suspension in schools for the rest of the year, among others.
“If we treat this obtaining situation as war, we have to know where the enemy is. That’s the benefit of mass testing. We also have to ramp up the capacity of treatment and isolation centers because that’s where the battle to save lives really happens. All these are necessary while we restore as much normalcy as possible to the economy – because we can’t fight a serious war without a war chest,” Salceda said.