Baguio City’s successful contact tracing due to ‘quality info’

Baguio City’s successful contact tracing due to ‘quality info’

MANILA – Baguio City Mayor Benjamin “Benjie” Magalong said the key to successful contact tracing is the quality of information obtained by tracers to get a clear picture of the city’s rate of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infection.

Magalong, a retired general, likened contact tracing to “investigating a serial criminal offense”, stressing that it was more than just a matter of identifying and listing people’s names.

“Kailangan po natin malaman iyong buong kuwento dahil marami po tayong hinahabol dito – paano na-infect itong tao na ito? Saan galing iyong infection? Ang dami po nating dapat alamin (We need to find out the whole story because we are running after a lot of people — how did this person get infected? Where did the infection come from? There’s so much to know) and that is the reason why I keep on saying that contact tracing is very similar po sa pag-iimbestiga po ng isang (to investigating a) serial criminal offense,” he said in a virtual presser with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday.

He emphasized the importance of having “cognitive interviewing skills” among investigators to efficiently collect information.

“Hindi ho basta-bastang puwede na lang kumuha ng mga ordinary na workers diyan at turuan na lang po diyan (We can’t just get ordinary workers and teach them) because they need to be trained po sa cognitive interviewing skills, pati ho iyong mga (even) basic investigation,” he said.

Investigators, he said, should be able to help a person recall the incident in as much detail as possible.

“Can you just imagine, iyong atin pong positive case ay kalimitan po iyan conflicted, ang taas po ng anxiety level niyan, litung-lito po iyan. Kaya dito po papasok iyong skill na ito ng isang investigator (positive cases are usually conflicted, they have high anxiety levels, they are confused. This is where the skills of the investigator come in),” he said.

Besides this, he said there should also be a seamless collaboration between law enforcement, investigators, and health authorities.

“Importante po ito na magkasama po ang ating mga PNP investigators at ating mga doctors and nurses...Ang importante po rito ay iyong effort ng isa complements the effort of the other (It’s important that our Philippine National Police investigators and our doctors and nurses work together. What’s important here is the effort of one complements the effort of the other),” he said.

Magalong also stressed that extensive testing is critical to contact tracing.

Despite medical groups’ opposition to rapid antibody testing, he said these tests were crucial in the “process of elimination” in terms of contact tracing.

“With limited resources, makakapag-focus po kami doon sa mga nag-positive lang po. We isolate them at ilu-launch po namin iyong contact tracing (we can focus on those who tested positive. We isolate them and launch contact tracing). Meantime, they are subjected to RT-PCR [real time polymerase chain reaction] tests,” he said.

Rapid antibody test kits use blood samples but are unable to detect the virus. Instead, they measure a patient’s antibodies through the sample. These tests are still subjected to PCR confirmatory tests.

He said successful contact tracing should also have transparency and speed, noting that “every second matters.”

Magalong also said the use of technology such as analytical tools, is “indispensable.”

“There is no substitute to being proactive,” Magalong said.

Baguio City was earlier recognized by the National Task Force Covid-19 as a model local government unit for managing to keep its Covid-19 cases low.

Currently, the Philippines is short of about 94,000 contact tracers to achieve the ideal ratio of one tracer per 800 people, according to the Department of Health. The agency aims to address the lack of contact tracers through emergency hiring.  Azer Parrocha /PNA –