Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is proposing the hiring of K to 12 graduates as contact tracers.

The senator said in a statement that his proposal “will hit two birds with one stone” since it will answer the country’s need for more contact tracers to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and it will also provide much needed employment for the unemployed.

“We will hit two birds with one stone: we give jobs to young people who are vulnerable at this time and we boost our efforts to contain the spread of the virus,” Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, said.

Gatchalian noted that the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic made employment opportunities dimmer for the new graduates who are also seeking jobs.

The K to 12 educational system was launched in 2011 with a promise of boosting the employability of its graduates

Gatchalian emphasized that by hiring these graduates as contact tracers, the government’s effort to track down and isolate virus carriers, especially now that lockdown measures are being gradually lifted, will be given a significant boost.  He added that these jobs would provide opportunities to these graduates a relief from the economic brunt brought about by the harsh lockdowns implemented to contain COVID-19.

However, the Department of Health (DOH) requires contract tracers to either be an allied medical professional or at least a graduate of an allied medical course. Gatchalian said the DOH needs to be more flexible during the pandemic so as to accommodate K to 12 graduates as contact tracers citing the case of the United States, where contact tracers are not necessarily college degree holders.

Gatchalian noted the International Labour Organization (ILO) report in May stating that young people (15-24) are being affected disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic particularly due to school and business closures, the loss of job opportunities that followed, and the difficulty in finding work.

He also noted the recent Philippine Statistics Authority’s January 2020 Labor Force Survey revealing that 16.9 percent of the youth population (15-24) are not in education, employment, and training further going up to 25.3 percent by April 2020.   Gatchalian said the ILO also identified testing and tracing (T&T) as a potential employment opportunity that can be targeted for young people and other groups affected by the pandemic.

“Kung bibigyan natin ng trabaho bilang contact tracers ang ating mga kabataan, kabilang na ang ating mga K to 12 graduates, hindi lamang natin sila mabibigyan ng solusyon sa mga hamong kinakaharap nila. Magiging bahagi rin sila ng mga solusyon upang makabangon ang ating bansa mula sa pinsalang dulot ng COVID-19,” he added.

Back in June, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the government is eyeing to hire some 50,000 COVID-19 contact tracers starting July.

“Nakausap ko po dyan si [Interior] Secretary [Eduardo] Año dahil sila po ang mag-iimplement ng tracing. July po ang target nila na mag-hire. Initially, they will hire 50,000 tracers,” he said in an online briefing.

The DOH said the country needs 94,000 contact tracers to meet the ideal ratio of one per 800 people. In President Rodrigo Duterte’s 14th report to Congress on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Republic Act 11469), there are currently 54,183 members of contact tracing teams nationwide.

Back in June, detained Sen. Leila de Lima filed last month a resolution calling for a Senate investigation into the Health Department’s contact tracing efforts.

She said there is a need to “to improve the dismal response of DOH against the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country.”

“The problem of contact tracing remains a persistent issue that needs to be addressed as it gravely affects the government’s ability to formulate an effective public health response to the pandemic,” she added.

Back in February, senators questioned the DOH’s slow contact tracing efforts after the Philippines recorded its first COVID-19 case.

A Senate hearing found out that weeks after the Chinese tourist from Wuhan, China, where the highly-contagious virus originated, tested positive for COVID-19, the DOH was able to contact only 17 percent of passengers who took the same flights with the patient. (Rommel F. Lopez)