A CITY in Metro Manila began last Saturday community-based mass testing for the coronavirus while another one is set to start a similar campaign this week.

The tests in Valenzuela will initially target medical frontliners, returning OFWs and residents being monitored for Covid-19 symptoms, according to a Daily Inquirer report. The cost of each test, amounting to P5,100, will be shouldered by the City Government.

Meanwhile, Quezon City will start testing this week residents who have cough and colds, the flu or acute respiratory infection. The city has acquired 1,300 test kits from the Department of Health with another batch of 1,500 expected from the Philippine National Red Cross.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, whose brother, Rex, is the Valenzuela city mayor said local government units must rise to the challenge of hitting at least a total of 10,000 tests daily. If we cannot do this, he said, “we cannot assess the real situation in the country.”

It is a point that I raised during a consultation meeting called by Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella last month. At that time, testing in Cebu City was minimal, if at all, for the simple reason that we did not have the capability to do it. To the mayor’s and Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Mike Dino’s credit, they were able to expedite the arrival of the first test kits in Cebu although it took another couple of weeks for the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center to become operational as a sub-national testing center.

As it is, the VSMMC is the lone testing center for the entire Central Visayas region Even if it doesn’t have to send the results to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City anymore, its capability is limited at only 240 tests daily (the figures are from a Rappler report).

Shouldn’t the local government units in the region take up Gatchalian’s challenge and follow the lead set by the cities of Valenzuela and Quezon? An estimated 15,000 seafarers are expected to be back soon, if they aren’t yet from employment aboard foreign vessels. Many of them are from Cebu. Their arrival will put more load to the already overburdened VSMMC laboratory. Shouldn’t our LGUs like the provinces of Cebu and Bohol and the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu work to lessen the pressure by setting up their own testing centers, perhaps in partnership with private hospitals?

The coronavirus is an invisible enemy, our leaders tell us and correctly so. Well, let’s not make our effort to vanquish it by going to battle blindfolded. We need to know who are infected before they had the chance to infect others.

Which reminds me of the need to make public the names of those infected with the coronavirus. The government Covid-19 task force recently ordered patients to disclose personal information in order to facilitate contract-tracing. It still does not permit the release and publication of the names of the patients, however.

They should. There is no intent to stigmatize here. In fact, there is no stigma at all. As I have previously argued in this space, while there is sadness and fear, there is no shame in having contracted the coronavirus. It is not like venereal disease which is associated with sexual promiscuity.

I look forward to the day when the DOH regional office conducts a daily press briefing and update us on the status of the Covid-19 outbreak in Central Visayas including the names of the patients. I hope they get the permission to do that soon.