By Rafael Castillo M.D.
Things appear to be getting better on the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) front.
Although newly confirmed cases are still in the thousands daily, the data clearly shows a downhill trend. Its contagiousness, or the rate at which it’s spreading, determined by its reproduction number (Ro, read as R-naught), is also going down. It’s now consistently less than 1, which means that for every person infected with COVID-19, less than one other person gets infected by that person.
If we maintain the Ro at less than 1, we can really say we’ve flattened the curve. And by all indications, we’re getting there. Even the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests done is also going down, and we’re already able to do 30,000 tests daily.
Around 12 percent of the tests turn out to be positive, which is still a bit high for comfort, but considering it used to hover at 18-19 percent, this is enough reason to pat the shoulders of our health officials, front-liners, health volunteers and others involved in the fight against COVID-19. Good job!
Yes, our health officials headed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III certainly committed some mistakes, but they’re now getting their bearings, and they should also be given credit for that.
At long last, we’re gaining a strong foothold in the battle against the virus. It’s not victory yet, lest we let our guard down, but if we maintain this course, we’re likely to be among the COVID-19 success stories in three to four months.
Volunteers from the medical community, in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH), are now focusing their strategy on the community and household levels. The objectives are to cut the transmission particularly in the household, and prevent the mild cases from getting worse, which is the main reason the hospitals and health-care system are overwhelmed.
A volunteer core group composed of Doctors Agnes del Rosario, Milo Roa, Joey Sullano, Jaime Cruz, Marivic Pilares-Cruz, Mario Panaligan, Ivan Villespin, Joselyn Eusebio and the other officers of Philippine College of Physicians, Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, Philippines College of Chest Physicians, Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, and Philippine Pediatric Society are closely collaborating with Health Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo to extend medical manpower assistance in “hot” barangays in the National Capital Region.
Philippine Medical Association is also collaborating with the Quezon City government in its barangay management approach, using artificial intelligence to monitor COVID-19 patients and people who had close contact with them.
It is hoped that these effective measures at the barangay and household levels could be duplicated and practiced in all affected areas in the country.
We may be on track to flattening the curve, but we’re far from eliminating COVID-19 in the country. It will be here to stay for at least another year, and it’s likely to reach every corner of the archipelago. It’s just a matter of time.
At the start of the pandemic, we already stressed this when the epicenter was just in Metro Manila. Then came Cebu, and now Bacolod is in a similar state. Every city and barrio will have its turn, but the local government units (LGUs) can prepare for this so as to mitigate its impact when it finally reaches their borders.
The DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases are collating all best practices at impact mitigation, especially contact tracing, so the LGUs don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
No LGU head should say they were caught flat-footed because they didn’t expect COVID-19 to reach their area. They’re blessed that they have the benefit of hindsight and ample time to prepare for their COVID-19 experience.
COVID-19 will remain a menace, but we now know a lot better how to keep it at bay. Physical distancing, face mask and face shield, and hand hygiene plus a healthy lifestyle and some supplements can help boost our immune system to improve our chances of preventing it, or surviving it should we get infected.
We still worry about it, but not to the point of allowing our COVID-19 fears to hold us hostage and immobilized. We now realize that we can still live and coexist with the virus.
We’re starting to go about doing our chores and working to earn a living. The country’s economic engine is still sputtering with short outbursts, but if we could sustain this favorable trend in the disease transmission, the outlook for the next 12 months is far better than the gloom we all experienced in the last six months.