Instead of simply relying on an area’s quarantine classification in choosing sites for the pilot tests of limited localized face-to-face classes, Senator Win Gatchalian said that the Department of Education (DepEd) should provide science-based criteria or epidemiological measurements such as the number of active COVID-19 cases, positivity rates, and transmission rates.
“It’s not only the quarantine restrictions, but you have to go much more granular in terms of location and the matrices that should be used in terms of assessing risk. So I would recommend that you go deeper beyond the quarantine level, use scientific and public health-based matrices, and create a ‘heat map’ for a better risk assessment,” said the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
“Kumuha rin sana tayo ng mga eksperto o mga doktor sa epidemiology na magbibigay ng rekomendasyon sa DepEd para makita natin kung saan ang mga ligtas na lugar. Doon tayo pwedeng magkaroon ng pilot testing,” he added.
Gatchalian cited the criteria of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the mapping of pilot areas at the local government unit (LGU) level. Based on UNICEF’s recommendations, an area should have less than 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days. UNICEF also recommends pilot tests in areas with less than five percent positivity rates, while LGUs should have an active contact tracing and surveillance system.
Schools participating in the pilot tests should also have an inventory of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. Aside from cleaning and disinfection facilities, the capacity to implement infection prevention and control should also be assessed at the school level.
“The signal that superintendents might get is that as long as you are in an MGCQ area, it’s all right to launch a pilot testing program. However, if you look at an MGCQ status, it has very general restrictions and it doesn’t talk about the public health aspect of epidemiology,” Gatchalian emphasized, adding that some highly-urbanized cities which tend to be dense are under MGCQ while having more than 100 active cases.
The lawmaker warned that without considering factors like the transmission and positivity rates, parents might not have the confidence to allow their children’s participation in the pilot tests of face-to-face classes.