June 23, 2024


The recent outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Benguet, particularly in the mining communities of Tuba and Itogon, has brought to light the importance of a local government unit with well-planned preemptive measures and the need to correct the public’s misconceptions about mass testing as an intervention against the pandemic.
Benguet officials, through the provincial inter-agency task force, announced it is currently working on the establishment of more isolation facilities in partnership with concerned government offices after cases in the province shot up late last month and traced from the mining communities in Itogon and Tuba who live in close quarters.
The positive cases were discovered after the conduct of mass testing, and the number is expected to increase further after another round of expanded testing on Nov. 5 to 6.
Benguet Gov. Melchor Diclas has initially appealed to stop the mass testing due to the lack of isolation facilities, but he later clarified that his request was for a temporary slowdown of mass testing – not for the whole province but in selected areas where clustering of cases were recorded to give time for cases in isolation or in quarantine facilities to recover and for the provincial LGU to look for other spaces as the present isolation facilities are no longer enough.
We understand the LGUs of Itogon and Tuba are now overwhelmed due to lack of isolation facilities and have been compelled to send asymptomatic patients to go on home isolation, which might not assure proper monitoring. Indeed, if the mass testing continues and more positive cases are confirmed, the situation might get out of hand.
Both and the rest of the towns therefore needed assistance from the provincial IATF and concerned government agencies not only in containing transmission but also in isolating infected cases. However, it behooves pointing out that the call for a time-out in mass testing – an intervention crucial in the “detect/identify, isolate, treat, and trace contacts” strategy in virus control – is an indirect admission that the concerned LGUs and the provincial IATF were not fully prepared for want of a contingency plan in the event of an outbreak.
In this time when testing is more needed, we wonder how contact tracing in the affected areas will be done if we stop doing the tests. Worse, some agree with the request to suspend mass testing, believing if there is “no mass testing, no positive cases,” not knowing it is more dangerous as it allows asymptomatic carriers the chance to infect people.
With or without experts’ warning, we should have expected it is only a matter of time outbreaks occured, such as how Baguio City anticipated it that led the LGU to preemptively arrange for the put-up of isolation facilities, especially when it planned to reopen its tourism industry, and rightly so when outbreaks occurred in its main abattoir and some barangays.
While Benguet has readied its hospitals and identified temporary treatment and monitoring facilities in its 13 towns, it was not enough to handle outbreaks. With political will and prompt coordination with concerned agencies for the funding requirements, the province could have thought of tapping private and public boarding establishments, as well as its vast open spaces in La Trinidad, for the put-up of temporary isolation camps as a contingency plan in coordination with the Department of Health.
But preparations are being done only now when there is already an outbreak.
We do not want to assume the province did not take the health crisis seriously or worse, it had no foresight. But it is clear it is ill-quipped for the pandemic despite having some time to plan for contingencies – as indicated by the fact that some of Itogon’s cases are now isolated in a private dormitory in Baguio City when there were earlier fears the city’s cases may spill out and affect its neighboring towns.
The public from the start were replete with information and warnings from health authorities that we are dealing with a highly infectious virus of novel origin, and so governments from top to bottom were expected to have interventions ready, and be more ready to anticipate a worst-case scenario.
We hope Benguet’s experience serves as a lesson to political leaders since we are not yet even half this unique battle. While it is true nobody would want to get sick and cannot be blamed for acquiring Covid-19, not initiating prompt actions when public concern demands for it should not be tolerated.