Testing, 1, 2, 3

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    ‘If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from government in the past weeks, it’s the fact it has succeeded magnificently in confusing the public.’

    AND here we are, in yet another iteration of a lockdown, currently called the modified enhanced community quarantine. The MECQ is supposed to last until the end of May, with the caveat that it can shift to a general community quarantine situation if cases go down or back to an enhanced quarantine, should cases go up.

    Truth be told, it’s hard to see how the current administration can make decisions on this one way or another, considering that our testing data has a backlog—meaning we’re not really seeing how many COVID-19 cases we have today; we’re seeing results from last week.

    Our policy makers are walking a tight rope: on one hand, trying to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in our communities. On the other, recognizing the need to gradually open the rest of the economy so folks can earn a living. That tight rope will always be the burden of government—finding the best course forward, while considering seemingly conflicting factors and considerations.

    If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from government in the past weeks, it’s the fact it has succeeded magnificently in confusing the public. Remember when they told us early on that only those with symptoms should wear masks when out in public? Which eventually evolved into a “no mask, no entry” policy, captured for posterity in local government ordinances. And don’t get me started about curfews—perhaps my favorite was the 24-hour one—to which one of my friends quipped: “That’s not how a curfew works, Karen.”

    Which brings us to the matter of whether or not returning employees should be required to take a COVID-19 test. The IATF says that there is no requirement to test asymptomatic employees before they are allowed to work, a policy which is probably grounded on two things: recognition that our facilities cannot test people fast enough to enable them to get back to work immediately, and second, government may not have the funds to pay for all the testing that needs to be done for the entire work force.

    But here’s where the confusion begins: some local governments (as of this date, Paranaque City is one) are requiring employees of businesses registered in their jurisdiction to submit themselves to testing (at the expense of the employers) before a return-to-work type of permit can be issued.

    If LGUs insist on this policy, businesses will have no choice but to follow as non-compliance can be a huge headache. Already, business owners are lamenting the added cost testing will mean for them, along with losses from the almost two months of non or minimal operation. They will have to decide whether to house their employees for yet an indeterminate period of time (which is another operating expense) or to have frequent testing to ensure that employees are healthy to work (yet another expense.)

    Another unintended consequence of following the LGU policy of required testing is that owners will be forced to buy rapid test kits from less than acceptable sources. If you’re part of a market place type of chat group, you may already have seen a number of sellers hawking rapid test kits. As one friend told me: “I’ve had ten offers from different people. But there’s really no way of knowing whether they are legit or not.” The dangers of using unreliable test kits are many: among them yielding false negatives that will mistakenly allow those with the virus to falsely think they are COVID-free.

    And so it will go, until someone steps in and tries to straighten out these conflicting rules between local and national government. And the confusion will certainly generate more harm than good: it will delay the opening of establishments unnecessarily, slowing the much-needed economic activity that drives livelihood.

    Until then, stay safe, folks. Whatever other names they come up for this quarantine in the coming weeks, don’t forget: the virus is still out there.

     

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