By Michaela Tangan
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

 A lot is yet to be cleared and understood about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). What remains evident is that collaborative efforts have to be pushed to decelerate or halt the transmission of the virus.

While the medical field is attending to patients in hospitals and the scientific community is finding a cure or vaccine in laboratories, civic bodies must safeguard their communities to avoid a more disruptive outbreak.

To avoid rummaging in the dark, local governments in the Philippines are encouraged to consider adopting and weaving into their strategies the best practices of other cities or municipalities. One of the few cities currently looked up to is Baguio.

According to the Baguio’s public information office, the city has conducted a total of 3,192 reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and 1,614 rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) since the COVID-19 outbreak. As of May 19, it recorded 32 confirmed cases. Of the number, there are two active cases, 29 recoveries and one death.

 While residents in the city have recognized for their discipline and respect for laws and regulations, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong also cited early contact tracing and mass testing as key components to COVID-19 prevention.

“From the start, the local government decided to deviate from the DOH protocol so that persons under investigation (suspect, probable, confirmed) with severe symptoms were already isolated with the provision of available isolation facilities,” Mr. Magalong shared.

The Baguio City local government unit (LGU) also conducted early contact tracing of close contacts of suspect, probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases. This allowed health officials to assess their condition and impose the 14-day mandatory isolation, either in their residences or isolation facilities, depending on the symptoms shown.

“With limited test kits donated to the city, mass testing was done to persons under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs) to determine their health condition while undergoing the quarantine period, and for them to be isolated once they have moderate to severe symptoms. Those who tested positive were subjected to confirmatory tests through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine available at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center,” he said.

Taking the next steps 

Baguio’s LGU has maintained stringent implementation of city ordinances, observance of liquor ban and curfew hours, strict border control, and aggressive information drives as they gradually transitioned from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine last May 15.

The city still observes Sunday as a “lockdown day.” Only vital establishments are allowed to operate and only essential workers are permitted to leave their homes. Senior citizens are also allowed to go to groceries, markets and drugstores on this day.

Baguio also recently passed an ordinance that mandates people to wear masks in public places (buildings, national roads or highways, sidewalks, walkways, public conveyance, and other similar establishments), workplaces (whether enclosed or outdoor), public and private vehicles (while plying city roads, alleyways, or streets), and while transacting business.

Although 80% of businesses are already operational under GCQ, they are only allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

According to Mr. Magalong, aggressive information and education campaigns will also continue through various social and mainstream media platforms. This is to educate Baguio residents about COVID-19 and inform them about the implementation of precautionary measures.

The city also continuously monitors the condition of PUIs and PUMs through barangay health emergency response teams (BHERTs) to ensure the execution of precautionary and preventive measures.

For its borders, only those coming for essential travels, returning overseas Filipino workers who coordinated with OWWA, returning residents, and COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases ((IATF-IED)-authorized persons will be allowed to enter.

“The local government will also continue to close its borders to people from other areas, except Benguet, to ensure that ill people will not be able to enter the city and spread the virus, which will ruin the city’s gains during the quarantine period,” he said.