ABS-CBN’s analysis of rising cases in regions identifies urgent needs

CHEERS TO ANC’s Dateline Philippines for doing more than just citing the number of COVID-19  cases around the country.  In an interview format, the program presented a discussion of critical implications of the recent surge in cases from NCR to the provinces.

Interviewed by anchor Karmina Constantino, Edson Guido, head of ABS-CBN’s data analytics team, interpreted the numbers, tracking the geographical shift of cases. While the numbers show a lower national average, these are being recorded in places that are even less prepared to handle the spikes. The seeming decline in cases should not lead to complacency on the part of government agencies but to quick and focused action. 

Guido raised the following points: 

  1. The seven-day average of 6,500 cases showed a clear shift in the location of COVID hot spots from NCR to Visayas and Mindanao, 25 percent of which are in Mindanao, 17 percent in the Visayas and 15 percent  in NCR. Cases increased in all three regions of the Visayas with a 44 percent growth rate. Mindanao showed a growth rate of 22 percent. The regions of Northern Mindanao, Davao Region and SOCCKSKSARGEN, as well as the cities of Bukidnon, Davao City, South Cotabato and Cagayan de Oro are now areas of concern.
  1. The national positivity rate has plateaued at 13 percent, but it is still almost two times higher than the recommended rate of the WHO before governments could reopen: at most 5 percent over a two-week period. The high positivity rates indicate the need to do more tests to track transmission and to address the spread. Eight regions, five of which are in Mindanao, posted a positivity rate of 20 percent or higher. 
  1. National numbers on  ICU bed capacity indicate a “safe zone” at 58 percent occupancy. DOH classifies as “safe” a critical care utilization rate that is below 60 percent. NCR is driving this relatively low national rate. The regional data, however, show four regions are at “moderate risk” (60 to 70 percent) and five regions at “high risk” (70 to 85 percent).  Four of these nine regions are in Luzon, four are in Mindanao, and one in Visayas. BARMM has entered the “critical” zone (above 85 percent). Only six out of the country’s 17 regions are actually in the “safe zone.” 

Most of these areas at risk are under the most relaxed quarantine classification. Furthermore, healthcare facilities in these locations are less adequate, with less medical equipment to enable the hospital systems to deal with critical cases. 

  1. Deaths are increasing in different regions, such as Western Visayas and Cagayan Valley in Luzon. The average weekly increase in deaths is now at one thousand, most of them senior citizens. So far, only 254,000 of the senior population are fully vaccinated, which calls for speeding up the immunization program to avoid more deaths among this vulnerable sector. 
  1. Responding to Constantino’s question on reallocation of vaccines to the new areas of concern, Guido said this move is only an option and that securing adequate amounts of vaccine doses remains the priority. Guido added that the government should also address vaccine hesitancy first, since the number of vaccinated individuals in some priority groups remains low. 

This kind of deconstruction demonstrates clearly how opening up the economy has direct consequences. These identified hotspots will quickly become full blown epicenters from which the disease would spread without quick government action. In addressing the need to sustain economic activities, government should have prepared to undertake necessary measures to strengthen all kinds of safeguards against transmission: the range includes testing, contact tracing, strict quarantine conditions. Obviously, reviewing quarantine conditions is a must. 

The situation shows the continuing vulnerability of regional as well as capital areas. The collection and breakdown of numbers will be essential to the evaluation of how government responds to the regional crises. 

So far, only ABS-CBN has invested in building up its in-house resources for data analysis. Media should refer to these findings in order to keep the public informed about the state of the pandemic nationwide, and to report the failure of regional responses to rising cases. The community press should take the cue with  interviews with LGUs in potential epicenters, including their representatives in Congress. 

The pandemic puts all leaders to a test. The analysis of the regional shift opens up both opportunity and need to evaluate how well these officials who continue to draw their salaries are serving their constituents and deserve to be kept in office.