Naming patients, mass testing key to Baguio City's COVID-19 prevention – mayor

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COVID-19 patients in Baguio City do not go by mere numbers for their identities. Instead, they disclose their names to the public— a move the local government believes is advantageous for contact tracing. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8)— While the spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide seems to show no signs of stopping, it's a different situation up north.

Renowned tourist destination Baguio City has not recorded a new case of the infectious disease for 11 straight days— a development its local government attributed to early prevention measures.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong shared to CNN Philippines how three initiatives— transparency, mass testing, and effective contact tracing— helped the "City of Pines" in its campaign to control the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 patients are named

COVID-positive patients in Baguio City do not go by mere numbers for their identities. Instead, they disclose their names to the public— a move Magalong said is advantageous for the contact tracing procedure.

"Transparency is actually key to earlier detection, key to contact tracing, key to prevention," Magalong said in an interview with The Source on Wednesday, adding that he has "personally talked" to patients regarding the disclosure of their identities.

He said some were initially hesitant to do so, but eventually gave in.

"It helped us a lot, control the spread of the virus," he added.

The government's COVID-19 task force has previously shared the sentiment, with officials ordering health facilities to obtain the consent of infected patients before publicly revealing their names.

Under the Data Privacy Act, a person’s health condition is classified as sensitive personal information which can only be used with the consent of the person or patient.

Magalong added local officials also provided a crash course on investigative and interviewing skills for the contact tracing team— composed of health frontliners— to help boost the city's COVID-19 campaign.

"What we did was to make sure each contact tracer is being supported by an investigator. And then we also came up with an analytical tool to enhance their contact tracing ability," the retired police general noted.

Mass testing, use of AI technology

Magalong added the Baguio government has also launched mass testing for the viral disease.

But with the limited supply of test kits in the area, the mayor said health officials have been using a different kind of technology— an artificial intelligence CT scan analysis system.

He said the CT scan will need around seven minutes for the system to detect a viral infection in the patient.

"Once we detect a viral infection, we immediately isolate the patients, we immediately launch the contact tracing. That's very critical and that's a big help in our COVID-19 campaign," Magalong added.

Not letting the guard down

Despite the development, local officials refuse to let their guards down, given that nearby regions, including Metro Manila, have yet to report a slowdown in COVID-19 cases.

"Ang fear kasi natin iyong sa National Capital Region and national picture hindi pa bumaba. Every day tumataas iyong number of cases and deaths,” Health Department – Cordillera regional director Dr. Amelita Pangilinan said Tuesday.

[Translation: Our fear is that cases in the National Capital Region and nationally have not gone down. Every day, the number of cases and deaths rises.]

As of Wednesday, Baguio has listed 14 cases of COVID-19, including one fatality. Nationally, there are over 3,700 confirmed cases of the highly-contagious disease.

Stringer Lauren Anuma contributed to this report.