According to a presentation of Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya of the DILG in one of the webinars that I attended (virtually); the general principle of our government's COVID-19 Response follows this sequence in the National Action Plan (NAP) that is DETECT-ISOLATE-TREAT. The same is true from another webinar presentation by Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr., the Chief Implementor of the NAP against COVID-19.
Let me repeat that, #1 DETECT, #2 ISOLATE, #3 TREAT.
Meanwhile, different categories of community quarantine have been in place to allow our healthcare system to buy time to prepare and adequately cater to those who needs medical care and attention. I repeat, to BUY TIME.
Community quarantines are not cure. They are preventive measures. And while I believe in the popular saying that "prevention is better than cure", overdoing it in the time of a pandemic is nothing but an escape in facing the real problem: COVID-19.
But how can we prevent ourselves from something that we haven't detected? How can we do #3 (TREAT) when we have not yet mastered #1 (DETECT)? This leads to me to a simple point: YES to mass testing!
In the past days, we saw how government and some from the private sector built quarantine and isolation areas which is highly remarkable. LGUs are still placed in different community quarantine levels to continue contain the movement of people. But all these falls under ISOLATION and it is only at #2 in the sequence. Again, we must master #1, DETECT. It is #1 for a reason.
We have seen efforts to conduct targeted testing, which is something to be thankful for but not something that we have to be contented about. Why? Because targeted testing is just a part of the solution, and not the entire solution. Targeted testing is only a beginning, but mass testing must be its end. And while some may argue that targeted testing is a strategy. It is not THE strategy.
I take great appreciation that efforts to increase our testing capacities have been ongoing. But let us not also forget, the increased testing capacity also includes speedy, accurate and reliable results.
The numbers released everyday by the Department of Health tell us that COVID-19 is here and it is real. But these numbers are not real, they are only a representation of what is real. With mass testing, it will be inevitable for the number of cases to increase but let us also remember that we should not be only focusing on the increasing numbers of confirmed cases, we should also turn our attention with the death rate and recovery rate. Let the death and recovery rates remind us that while COVID-19 is fatal, we should
somehow find a slight relief that it can be treated (TREAT is #3). And with the increasing number of recoveries, #3 (TREAT) must be doing well.
As we may be conducting tests in an increasing number, but its results are painstakingly slow. The results can only be accurate and reliable if produced expeditiously. Until then, we are responding to this pandemic thoughtlessly.
So, what really holds our government to do mass testing? Is it the lack of financial and human resources? Is it the uncertainty in the preparedness of the healthcare system? Or is it that blind hope that with time all of these will go away?
We have bought and invested time. But time is not the cure. As time passes by, so as our lives. Imagine the time spent by returning OFWs in quarantine facilities, the time spent by health workers in hospitals, the time spent by stranded individuals in uncomfortable locations, and the time spent by front liners to provide the public with essential goods and services. They are spending time elsewhere when they should have been spending it to those that matters – family, loved ones, spirituality, home et al.
This is the kind of time we are investing on, but have we gotten our returns? Is it the returns from the meager amount from the government’s social amelioration program? I dare say, NO. These should be the returns of genuinely containing the spread of COVID-19, the returns of increasing our healthcare capacity, the returns of opening our economies safely, and most importantly the returns of not living in fear anymore.
Have we gotten any of these?
Until then, let’s keep asking ourselves, “Are we doing it right?”