Virus, Contact Tracing and a Death of a Leader

When a doctor to the barrios conceptualizes a system to fight COVID-19 for the City

August 9, 2020

COVID-19 took the entire world by storm, and our freedom was taken away in an instant. Health protocols had to be implemented, and we continue to live our lives under certain regulations, tests, and lockdowns.

Raffy Kapuno, a prominent leader in the Baguio art community, passed away due to pneumonia way before his swab test came out, so he was assumed to have carried COVID-19. Due to strict protocols and the need to comply, his family never got to bid farewell to a good father and a loving husband. He was sent out in a sealed body bag and was ordered to be cremated as soon as possible. This man is loved by many, and he lived all his life inspiring artists and igniting dreamers, yet he was not given the proper wake that every human being deserves. Raffy came out negative for COVID-19 days after his death. Well, how could he get it when he never stepped out of his home since March 16th, the first day of lockdown?

If only we had a way to beat the protocols; some proof that this person did not go anywhere; that he was never in close contact with a COVID-19 patient--his family and friends would have been able to mourn him properly. They would have processed his passing with a body in deep slumber, instead of a jar that was rushed to be filled with ashes. Everybody deserves closure, and this pandemic is taking away closure from the departed and their families.

Raffy’s daughter, who is a Doctor to the Barrios in Malibcong, Abra, had to rush home just to find her father in a marble container. She wanted to be able to be there before her father would be cremated, but the pandemic brought some tedious processing before she was able to arrive home. Lives were on hold while waiting for swab results. Everyone who was in contact with Raffy’s close contacts was extremely anxious. These things got Doctor Mira Kapuno thinking about the tiresome processes, the logging, and the checkpoints that we all have to go through. It wouldn’t matter if your loved one died, you have to do all of these things to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She has been serving the far-flung Malibcong for years, and she has seen things in the grassroots. Things might be getting worse for the public health system, and she has been itching to do something about it. She was able to express her grief to Giul Sanchez, a local artist and community worker who had the same views regarding all the burdens that this pandemic is putting on our shoulders. “We have been sacrificing so much just to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Why do we have to give up so much of our mental health to this pandemic? Why do we have to spend so much time lining up for checkpoints and writing on logbooks? What can we do to make things better? How do we prevent these injustices from happening to other people?” There were so many frustrations in a time of sorrow.

A few days later, Giul Sanchez was able to introduce Doctor Mira Kapuno to Bantay Digital. They were all on the same wavelength. They wanted to make things easier and safer for everyone. They wanted to create a system to help eradicate COVID-19. It was compassion that brought them together. Doctor Mira Kapuno and Giul Sanchez pitched some ideas and Bantay Digital wholeheartedly supplied the graphics and technology. They wanted to start here in Baguio City; where their mission is to create meaningful automation for the community. This was the beginning of “TRACE”. Bantay Digital came up with the name of the system that would help with Contact Tracing.

The team looked at the technology that other countries were using. They looked beyond Baguio and thought of the entire nation. There was so much that could be done. But unlike these other countries, the Filipino population included people who do not have smartphones. Bluetooth? How do we include the poorest of the poor? How do we include those who do not have smartphones? How do we include those who are not tech-savvy? The team decided on QR Codes. People who do not have smartphones can print their QR Codes with the help of their family members and/or their barangay units. After all, Mayor Benjie Magalong has been dubbed as The Contact Tracing Czar and his government has introduced the use of QR through the Wellness Passes. The team felt like there was a good chance for this system to work within the existing Contact Tracing methods.

There was an intense exchange of ideas and possibilities. A lot of discussions. Naturally, some resistance and doubts from individuals. The team knew that TRACE had to be extensive.

The project was dissected into phases. Time is of the essence because of the sudden rise of cases in Baguio. The team had to seek consultation and insights from different people: doctors, health workers, businessmen, artists, and lawyers. The team needed to acquire results to gain support. For efficiency, the system would need to be connected to the whole City of Baguio. The local government would have to mandate the system for it to be able to unify sectors. The system would be able to work to its full potential with the right amount of support.

TRACE is a Progressive Web App (PWA). The app opens on the browser of your computer or on your phone. No need to install.

So, how exactly are we going to acquire results? At this point, the Bantay Digital Team has tapped many of Baguio’s private establishments to help with TRACE’s Test Run. This is the first phase of the project: Establishments. And we will move forward as much as we are allowed. We are providing these establishments and their customers with paperless login to eventually eliminate manual logging and provide accurate data for our City’s Contact Tracing Team. We'd like to thank them for their participation.

For more information about the app, you may click/tap here.

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