By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Malacañang has designated new anti-Covid-19 czars to lead each section of the government’s strategy — testing, tracing, isolation and treatment.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar is the country’s “chief isolation czar,” Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong is “chief tracing czar” and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega is “chief treatment czar.”

The three new appointees will join Bases Conversion and Development Authority President and CEO Vince Dizon, who was earlier appointed as “testing czar.”

The four anti-Covid czars will serve under the National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19, led by Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.

“Ang ating stratehiya sa matinding pagsubok ng Covid-19: mas malawakang targeted testing, mas maraming isolation centers, mas matinding tracing, at mas matinding treatment para sa mga nagkakasakit. Lahat po ‘yan sa ilalim ng NTF, sa ilalim ng ating Chief Implementer Secretary Galvez,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a virtual presser.

Dizon reported that as of July 11, the country has 85 Covid-19 laboratories and 978,651 tests administered.

Daily tests administered, as of July 9, stood at about 25,000. The government targets 30,000 tests to be done daily by end-July.

The country has recorded 57,006 Covid-19 cases, of which 35,036 are active.

‘Radical change’ in tracing

Newly appointed Covid-19 contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said the country would have a “contact tracing ecosystem” that would utilize health workers, law enforcement investigators and data analysts.

“[R]adically ay babaguhin po natin iyong structure ng ating contact tracing system. Ang itatawag po natin diyan is iyong ‘contact tracing ecosystem,’” Magalong said in the Palace briefing.

The Baguio City mayor said the “ecosystem” would make use of partnerships between health workers and law enforcement investigators. It will also employ analysts, encoders and technical support, and use a community support system driven by patients.

Magalong, former chief of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, has been hailed over the tracing strategy he had introduced in Baguio.

Tracers in Baguio use enhanced cognitive interviewing, a police questioning technique, to better track down contacts of COVID-19 positives.

The technique will be taught in “skills training” sessions in local government units nationwide.

“Iyong ating skills training, diyan po natin i-introduce iyong tinatawag nating committed interviewing skill para talaga hong mas maayos po iyong pagtatanong, at the same time, natutulungan po iyong mga positive patients na i-recall iyong mga insidenteng nangyari three weeks ago, two weeks ago, para mas madali po nilang matandaan kung sino po iyong mga kanilang na-contact at saan po sila nagpupunta,” the Baguio mayor said.

A “contract tracing e-system” will also be implemented.

In the e-system, data collected will be digitalized. A geographic information system (GIS) will then be used for tracers to visualize the extent of potential infection.

After the GIS data is analyzed, a “link analysis” method will be used to establish a network of patterns and relationships between infections.