Jumping the Line: COVID-19 Testing Is a Test of Humanity
By now, it should already be clear how testing for COVID-19 can save lives, not just of those found positive, but of all those they might have infected—family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances and complete strangers with whom they have had close contact with. The algorithm put forward by the Department of Health is based on common sense, especially in the light of the incredible shortage of testing kits available in the country: test only those experiencing severe and critical symptoms, full stop. Even those classified as Persons Under Investigation are told to quarantine themselves at home.
Recent reports have indicated that a number of people in power jumped the line at a public testing facility to have themselves—and in some cases, even their spouses—tested despite the DOH triage system, and indeed the rules of common sense. When a person clearly exhibiting dire symptoms is tested and found positive, resources can be allocated toward saving that person’s life and tracing all their contacts so that more lives can be saved.
And yet: “May sarili silang codes. May sarili silang pila,” someone noted, invoking that other sense that seems to be common among those in power: that there is always an exception, and they are the exception, and those are the rules. Forget the usual backlash from the ordinary people. The denials, reversals, and assurances, packaged by PR and comms advisors and specialists, can be always fed into the news cycle. In fact, not a full day after the leak, this is already happening.
There is always an exception, and they are the exception, and those are the rules. Forget the usual backlash from the ordinary people.
Except that these are not usual, ordinary times. We are only a handful of days into a crisis that promises to last months long, and already we see exhausted resources, thinning frontlines, and a wave of helplessness sweeping across the nation. We are all widely in agreement that we are not equipped and half-planned, and that we are many times just making up the rules as we go, despite various examples around the world of the grave consequences of being unprepared.
Perhaps this is why an exceptional kind of common sense is called for: if you are in power, being prepared means using your connections, pulling rank, jumping the line, and using that extra special code that will allow you to get ahead of others. This happens all the time, of course. During the Second World War, cowardly Filipinos saved their own skins by collaborating with foreign invaders or outing those involved in the underground resistance. So this should come as no surprise. In fact, it should be expected.
It should be natural, too, for the ordinary Filipino to aspire to achieve this kind of superpower. Family and friends depend on me, so why shouldn’t I flash my credentials and my privilege card? Why shouldn’t I show my badge and brandish my gun? Why shouldn’t I call the team for a quick swipe or swab in the comfort of my home?
In this startlingly sudden age of isolation, “social distancing” has begun to take on a darker and more sinister meaning. For many of us, shuttering one’s home and locking one’s door easily takes on the meaning of defending oneself, instead of defending others from oneself. To stay away from the streets is to remain clean and uncontaminated. And to find ways to get tested—perhaps even twice—so you can reassure yourself you remain one of the lucky uninfected, completely disregarding the protocols of the very government you stand for, is to manifest your simple human urge to survive.
But—in case officials and politicians might have forgotten it—there is a difference between being human and being humane. Between thinking for yourself and your family, and thinking for society.
Being in power amplifies this difference and underlines, in red, what it means to be corrupt: to use your position and privilege to exercise your complete disregard for society—and, in the process; your own humanity.