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When positivity sucks

“I have never undergone a COVID-19 test ever since the pandemic began.”

Does this statement make me a lucky person or does it make me a poor unfortunate soul?

I guess it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, it could mean that despite among those who are unable to work from home because of the way my workplaces are set up, my safety protocols and good luck have been exceptional over the past 500+ days because I have not yet experienced a close contact scare scary enough to force me to get tested.

I have two unvaccinated teenagers in my home and I cannot afford to not get tested if I get red flagged by my paranoid wife who has been working at home and staying with the kids ever since the pandemic began. As the pin that can prick our bubble, I know that I have to be tested if ever my own personal contact tracing methods say I have come into close contact with someone who tested positive, or if I come up with any of the COVID-19 symptoms.

If you come to think of it, it is quite an achievement for someone like me, who I would classify as moderate risk for COVID due to the nature of my work and interactions outside the home, to have never been tested. I probably deserve a medal for continuously observing the health and safety protocols that have kept me from close calls over the past 18 months.

Of course there have been days when I went on red alert and prepared myself to be tested, especially after close contacts reported close contacts with people who tested positive; but so far those close calls have not resulted in any positive tests so I haven’t felt the need to get tested.

The feat of not needing to get tested after all this time despite not working at home is ultimately a good thing because aside from confirming that I’ve been a good and obedient boy, it also means I haven’t had to spend money on expensive PCR tests and risk losing time and income by being sent to an isolation facility or god forbid a hospital if ever the test comes out positive.

But if you come to think of it, it is also a terrible thing because it demonstrates just how inaccessible regular testing is to normal Filipinos. Heck, if someone who considers himself privileged like me can consider testing a hassle, outrageously expensive, and a risk to my earning capacity and freedom; I can only imagine how COVID-19 testing is seen by the majority of the population in this country that is mired in poverty and despair.

I will say it again. I have not subjected myself to a COVID test because it is inaccessible, expensive, and potentially inconvenient. Like the millions of Filipinos who have avoided being tested over the past 18 months, I will get myself tested only if I have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive or if I experience majority of the COVID-19 symptoms.

This is the reason why our country’s positivity rate of almost 30% is through the roof.

Positivity rate is the percentage of COVID tests performed that yield positive results. A high number is a terrible score in terms of pandemic response because it indicates that the number of positive tests is too high, meaning a high level of community transmission; or the total number of tests is too low, meaning that there are likely more people with COVID in the community who have not been tested.

A high positivity rate means more testing should be done and suggests it is not a good time to relax restrictions aimed at reducing transmission. For comparison, the countries that are generally regarded as having done a good job at controlling COVID like South Korea and Australia have positivity rates of up to 1 percent, well below the WHO standard of 5 percent.

Our positivity rate is 30 frigging percent. When 1 in 3 people tested are positive, it indicates that we test only those who are almost sure to have COVID. The rest of the population, we don’t bother with or don’t give access to testing. We’d rather make them wear face shields, set curfews, liquor bans, and have check points.

I should be testing myself more if I want to make sure my family who stay at home are safe from my regular interactions with the world. But I don’t do that because testing is not affordable, accessible and regular in this country. When a positive test means being isolated and losing income with a very slim chance of government support, especially if you are asymptomatic as a huge percentage of COVID infected people are, those who are already struggling to put food on the table would rather not risk it.

It’s been 18 months, 500++ days and testing is still not a priority and not a regular part of our lives. Our positivity rate is at 30% and still climbing and government has done nothing to bring it down. They’ve probably given up trying to get it down to the WHO recommended standard of 5%. Anyway, we’ve got face shields for that added 1% protection.

It’s agonizingly difficult to be positive and upbeat about our chances at beating COVID when our statistics are terrible. A country’s positivity rate should be something that gives its people hope but under this government, it is just another reason to despair.

When I say “I have never undergone a COVID-19 test ever since the pandemic began,” I can be proud of myself for having achieved the improbable. However, when it comes to my country, it is an embarrassing to admit that people just aren’t getting enough access to testing during a pandemic.*

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November 2021

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