For the second time, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019. Año himself announced this as he went into self-isolation. Cabinet members who interacted with him in recent days have also undergone self-quarantine.
Año’s case deserves careful study by epidemiologists, who are still unsure if surviving COVID-19 infection gives the patient immunity, and how long the immunity lasts. Catching measles, for example, gives lifelong immunity, but the common cold keeps recurring, and there is still no cure or vaccine for it. Dengue can recur, with subsequent infections potentially riskier. In certain viral afflictions, however, the next infections are milder than the first.
Another possibility is that the results of Año’s previous tests were wrong, and that he actually had not yet rid himself of COVID-19. This can pose problems for the reliability of existing tests for the COVID-causing SARS-coronavirus-2, and aggravate the risk of community transmission. There is also no definitive study on whether the antibodies developed by COVID survivors make them completely free of SARS-CoV-2, and whether the survivors remain capable of passing it on to others.
Amid all these uncertainties, and in the absence of a vaccine or cure, the best defenses against SARS-CoV-2 infection remain the health protocols already prescribed by scientists: physical distancing; cough and sneeze etiquette; wearing of face mask and, where appropriate, a face shield; regular handwashing with soap and water, or else disinfection of the hands with alcohol or sanitizer; avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, and staying home as much as possible.
In the meantime, public health experts must study Año’s case thoroughly because of its implications on health safety protocols as the country continues the gradual reopening of the economy. The possibility of reinfection is on top of reports that a mutated COVID strain has been detected in Quezon City, which appears to be more infectious than the original. The last thing the country needs is the emergence of a more virulent strain of COVID. Every effort must be made to determine if this can be ruled out.