A surge of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines in the following weeks may happen if not enough action is taken on existing clusters of infection, an infectious diseases specialist warned on Thursday.
Dr. Rontgene Solante of San Lazaro Hospital explained that the clustering of cases indicates sustained COVID-19 transmission, after the Department of Health (DOH) said it had identified 1,107 clusters nationwide.
“Clustering of cases is an indicator of sustained transmission in the community,” Solante told GMA News Online.
“If this is nationwide, then there is rampant spread of the virus, where it is now difficult to do contact tracing,” said Solante, a member of the vaccine experts’ panel of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a cluster refers to an “aggregation of cases in a given area over a particular period without regard to whether the number of cases is more than expected.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) identified clustering as one of the transmission patterns of COVID-19, where infections are “clustered in time, geographic location and/or by common exposures.”
To prevent this from possibly happening, Solante urged the strengthening of case finding and contact tracing efforts at the local government level.
He also said the public must be better informed about health protocols to prevent infection and transmission, such as the use of face masks, face shields, and proper handwashing.
Solante also said there must be “enhanced awareness among local constituents where these clustering are located.”
“Do information campaign on symptoms related to COVID-19 and [they] should consult at once, even the mildest symptoms,” he stressed.
He also recommended “aggressive” swab testing and selective lockdowns in areas where there is clustering.
“There is ongoing sustained transmission. Expect cases to surge in the next few weeks if above action is not followed,” Solante said.
The DOH earlier launched the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) following the medical community’s call for a recalibration of the government’s COVID-19 response.
CODE surveillance teams were tasked to visit barangays where clusters were reported.
"So, when we say there's clustering, puwedeng sa isang bahay may dalawang tao na nagkaroon (ng COVID-19) o higit pa o puwedeng sa isang munisipyo may dalawang barangay na nagkaroon at higit pa," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said earlier.
Under the CODE protocol, symptomatic individuals will undergo swab testing while those who were exposed to people exhibiting symptoms will be isolated.
Vergeire earlier said that the failure to isolate people with exposure to symptomatic individuals may be one of the contributing factors to community transmission.
In July, the DOH attributed the spike in infections to community transmission of COVID-19.
The Philippines has logged 147,525 cases as of Thursday afternoon, still the highest across Southeast Asia.