BY CARLA P. GOMEZ
The COVID-19 positive cases are alarming but with proper structures in place and close coordination between Bacolod City and Negros Occidental, he is very optimistic that the situation can be turned around in a couple of weeks, retired General Melquiades Feliciano, Inter-Agency Task Force-Visayas chief implementer, said yesterday.
The Department of Health 6 last night reported 85 new COVID-19 cases in Negros Occidental and 89 in Bacolod City.
Feliciano will be in Bacolod City and Iloilo City for three weeks to set up the structures adopted in Cebu City, which was the longest area in the country under Enhanced Community Quarantine, that stemmed the rise in COVID-19 cases there.
Feliciano stressed the need to boost COVID-19 contact tracing, with the training of 105 contact tracers in Bacolod City now underway, increased virus testing capacity, and a faster turnaround of results as key to the battle against COVID-19.
He also stressed the need for Bacolod and Negros Occidental to work together in this battle as they are interconnected.
Feliciano, Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Visayas, Dr. Mary Jean Loreche of the DOH in Central Visayas, Rep. Francisco Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) and Provincial Administrator Rayfrando Diaz held a press conference by zoom yesterday.
Gonzales said their team was sent to Bacolod on the instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte to introduce what was done in Cebu City to address the COVID problem.
“What happened in Cebu could happen in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental, the test results are worrisome,” Gonzales said.
“It is good to be scared so we are not complacent, but we should not panic,” he said.
He said the OPAV, headed by Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino, is providing Negros Occidental and Bacolod City with logistical support.
He also pointed some of the specimens from the Timeout Weekend in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental had been tested in Cebu.
Loreche, DOH 7 pathologist, said that of the 1,590 specimens tested in Cebu, 212 tested positive or 13.3 percent.
That is kind of alarming, she said.
They are still testing 1,300 more specimens sent to Cebu, she added.
Loreche is helping the Teresita L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital laboratory in Silay City and laboratories in Bacolod City to streamline operations for higher testing capability and faster release of results.
She said TLJPH has a capability for 800 tests a day with turnaround time of 48 to 72 hours now, but with the help of Benitez they hope to increase it to 2,000 tests a day with a 24-hour turnaround time.
Loreche also said close coordination between the province and city, aggressive contact tracing, isolation facilities, and increased hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients are keys to the fight against the virus.
Benitez, who thanked the IATF Visayas for their help, said the capability for mass Covid-19 testing will break the pathways of transmission.
Protocols initially in place were on the assumption that the virus would come from outside, he said.
“But because of the high number of local transmissions that we are experiencing, it might actually behoove us to start thinking parallel protocols to ensure that we can protect ourselves and contain the pathways of local transmission and contamination,” he said.
He said the COVID-19 fight can succeed “if we act together…the virus does not recognize LGU boundaries, political personalities, class or gender,” he said.
“We need to be ready for a longer term engagement,” he added.
Benitez said he hopes Negros and Bacolod can become a model for cooperation and coordination as “heal as one” strives to do.
Diaz said Feliciano’s team has shared so much with the provincial government COVID-19 frontliners to improve their systems.
He said the provincial government will work to increase the COVID-19 testing capability of the TLJPH laboratory to serve the needs of Negros Occidental, Bacolod, and neighboring areas.*