BY CARLA P. GOMEZ
A four-day “timeout weekend”, from August 28 to 31, will see the lockdown of four cities and one town in Negros Occidental for mass COVID-19 testing to curb the rising transmission of the deadly virus, provincial economic adviser, former Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez, announced Saturday.
A special task force will be created to oversee the testing of about 5,000 Bacolod City residents for COVID-19 in the first two days, and 5,000 in Silay, Talisay and Bago cities and Murcia town on the last two days of the “timeout weekend,” he said.
The COVID-19 test supplies estimated to cost about P35 million will be sourced from the national government, and persons manifesting symptoms of the virus will be the priority for free testing, Benitez said at a press conference Saturday attended by Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson and Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia.
“There will be no movement at all. There will be a lockdown for four days while we test everybody,” Benitez said.
Benitez said Lacson, and mayors Leonardia, Neil Lizares of Talisay City, Mark Golez of Silay City, Nicholas Yulo of Bago City and Gerry Rojas of Murcia in a virtual meeting yesterday agreed to issue executive orders today declaring the lockdowns for mass testing.
Lacson said they will ask the regional Inter-Agency Task Force today to allow the lockdown of the five local government units considering that they are all under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) now.
At the meeting also attended by Negros Occidental Board Member Ryan Gamboa and Department of Health 6 regional director, Dr. Marlyn Convocar, the officials also discussed the protocol for the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests to be conducted.
Benitez stressed the need to step up tracing, testing and treating of COVID-19 hit persons.
“If we do not do this properly, we will end up losing the war to this virus,” Benitez said.
That is why we need to accelerate and play catch up in the battle versus the virus, with transmission rate rising, he said.
We can then isolate those who test positive from infecting others, he said.
He said the mass testing needs to be a coordinated move because the virus does not recognize boundaries.
Benitez noted that Negros Occidental and Bacolod City have among the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases in Western Visayas.
“Hopefully, we will be in a better place after this,” Benitez said.
The August 28 to 31 mass testing is not a one-time drive, future mass testing activities will also be held in other areas of Negros Occidental phase by phase, Benitez said.
Some LGUs are doing better than others and may not need mass testing, he added.
“Until a vaccine comes out, we’re going to be fighting this virus everyday of our lives,” he said.
At the rate the virus has been hitting Bacolod City and Negros Occidental, Benitez said “we don’t want to be the next Cebu.”
Benitez said the five COVID-19 laboratories in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental will be able to process 2,500 tests a day.
Lacson stressed the need to work as one family as Bacolod and Negros Occidental are experiencing the same COVID-19 problem.
“Hopefully together, we can come up with more solutions,” he said.
Lacson said he hopes PhilHealth can reimburse the cost of the mass testing.
Leonardia, who was accompanied by Bacolod Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran and Councilor Renecito Novero at the press conference, said Bacolod is committed to joining the mass testing drive initiated by Benitez and Lacson.
Leonardia said if Bacolod City does not have enough isolation facilities for those who test positive during the timeout weekend, Benitez and Lacson have agreed to accommodate some of them at the isolation facilities of the province.
He reiterated that while Bacolod City remains under MGCQ until August 31, a city ordinance will be passed for issuance of Home Quarantine Passes to regulate the movement of people but without having to close down offices and businesses or suspend public transportation.
The quarantine status of Bacolod after August 31 will depend on the declaration of the National Inter Agency Task Force, Leonardia said.
Meanwhile, Benitez said they have been receiving reports that some establishments, including BPO offices, might be violating certain COVID-19 protocols.
Benitez called for their cooperation because he is sure Lacson and Leonardia will not hesitate to file cases against violators.
He also said the concern of some employees over the lack of a proper lockdown at the Sugar Regulatory Administration after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 has reached authorities.*