Phl. now at ‘critical risk’ for COVID19 transmission photo Rappler

Phl. now at ‘critical risk’ for COVID19 transmission

Jan 11, 2022, 10:36 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz


At the rate infections are increasing, the Philippines is now at critical risk (from just high risk) of Covid19 transmissions. Hospitals, ICUs and isolation facilities are nearing their brink and healthcare workers are themselves getting sick. But the Department of Health even has the nerve to propose a shortening of the quarantine period for healthworkers to five days. The healthworkers called this “inhumane.”

With infections soaring to record level of 33,169 on Monday, the Philippines is now at ‘critical risk’ for COVID 19 transmissions, reported Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to President Duterte.

“Our country is currently in critical risk case classification with an increase of 690 percent in our 7-day average of daily reported cases,” Duque said.

Apart from average daily cases, Duque also said that the country’s two-week growth rate is now 3,663 percent, the average daily attack rate (ADAR) is 10.47, and the positivity rate is 40.4 percent.

The ADAR refers to the percentage of an at-risk population that is infected with the virus during a specific period.

This is significantly higher than on Jan. 3, when the DoHfirst classified the country as “high risk” with a 222 percent growth rate when comparing cases recorded from Dec. 6 to 19, 2021 and Dec. 20, 2021, to Jan. 2, 2022.

The country’s national bed utilization rate is at 40 percent, the ICU utilization rate is at 38 percent, and the mechanical ventilator utilization rate is at 17 percent. “So all of these show that the utilization rate has increased,” Duque said.

Omicron is now dominant variant

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has replaced the Delta variant as the dominant variant of the COVID-19 virus in the Philippines, Duque said citing the latest genomic sequencing run on Jan. 3.

“Based on our last run of genome sequencing, 60 percent of the samples sequenced were found positive for Omicron variant,” Duque said in Filipino. “It’s already the dominant variant — whereas before it was the Delta,” he added.

In the genome sequencing where 48 samples were taken, 60.42 percent or 29 cases were Omicron cases while 18 were Delta cases. On Jan. 6, the Department of Health detected a total of 43 cases of Omicron variant in the country.

The DoH said 46 percent of 73,234 samples on Jan. 8 tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), way above the 5 percent threshold set by the World Health Organization.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 33,169 cases on Monday, probably spurred by the highly mutated Omicron variant, bringing the total to 3 million. The death toll hit 52,293 after 145 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 3,725 to 2.79 million it said in a bulletin.

There were 157,526 active cases, 4,994 of which did not show symptoms, 147,912 were mild, 2,858 were moderate, 1,461 were severe and 301 were critical.

DoH said 99 percent of the cases occurred from Dec. 28 to Jan. 10. The top regions with new cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 18,535, Calabarzon with 7,443 and Central Luzon with 3,403 cases. It added that 2 percent of the deaths occurred in November, 12 percent in October, 36percent in September and 15 percent in August.

The DoH said 86 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 73 of which were recoveries and two were deaths, adding that 124 recoveries were relisted as deaths. Ten laboratories failed to submit data on Jan. 8.

Octa says positivity rate breached 50%

Also on Monday, the OCTA Research Group said the positivity rate in Metro Manila had exceeded 50 percent, which could mean that cases in the region were “close to the peak.”

“There is hope that the positivity rate is already stalling or in other words, it might be close to the peak,” OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David told CNN Philippines.
“If it starts to peak, we may already start to see a downward trend next week,” he said. “But this is all preliminary. It is still early to say if it is already peaking.” David said the country might record as many 40,000 daily infections this month.

“If we hit 40,000 to 50,000, this would be close to the worst case because after that, we would be losing visibility already,” he said. “We won’t even see 100,000 cases because we’re only testing about 70,000.”

Slow test results turnout

Testing czar Vivencio B. Dizon apologized for the slow turnout of test results, saying more people were getting tested amid the surge.

He also said many medical and laboratory technicians have caught the coronavirus. “They need to isolate themselves and they could not report for work. That’s our biggest challenge right now.”

The country’s pandemic task force has shortened to five days the quarantine period for coronavirus-stricken health workers who are fully vaccinated and do not show symptoms.

Dizon said the government might shorten the quarantine period for more people. “For now, the policy is only for healthcare workers.”

“Our experts are studying what other countries have been doing, like the United States and Europe, which shortened the isolation especially for vaccinated people,” he said. “That is being studied.”

Alert Level 4?

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles said the government might raise the coronavirus alert in Metro Manila to Level 4 once its health system reaches the threshold.

The government would “not hesitate to raise the alert level if healthcare use tops 70 percent. We continue to manage the situation, so we do not reach the threshold. That means making sure our healthcare is well enough to accommodate those who need to be hospitalized,” Nograles said. NCR is under Alert Level 3 until January 15.

Nograles said an area with high levels of virus growth, average daily attack and healthcare use rates will be placed under Alert Level 4. The metro’s first two metrics are high, while healthcare use was moderate, he added.

The DoH on Monday said that 38 percent of intensive care units (ICU) in the Philippines were occupied, while 41 percent of isolation and ward beds had been used. In Metro Manila, 52 percent of ICUs and 54 percent of isolation beds were occupied, while 67percent of ward beds had been used.

State decisions on quarantine have failed to take into account health workers, who are the pillars of the country’s pandemic response, said Joshua L. San Pedro, co-convenor of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health.

San Pedro, a doctor, said the government had yet to consider the availability of health workers in setting the alert level for an area.

Shortage of healthworkers

“With the health system chronically understaffed and far from the ideal health worker-to-population ratio, we are now seeing the effect of that shortage when those who are going on duty are being afflicted by what is likely a very infectious variant,” he said.

He added that instead of addressing the shortage, DoH has “resorted to shortening quarantine and isolation periods, which might put more staff and patients at risk of potential outbreaks in facilities.”

“Two years and two surges later, the gov’t does not seem to have learned anything,” said Gene A. Nisperos, a board member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation, Inc.
“Even the metrics it uses, which was not much helpful in the past two surges, is the same,” he said noting that very little was done when cases were declining about the shortage in health workers and the problem of understaffing remains unaddressed,” he said.

Roldan Clumia, president of the St. Luke’s Medical Center Employees Association, said many health workers had yet to receive their special risk allowances promised by the government.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, the Private Hospital Workers Alliance of the Philippines urged the DoH to cover all health workers for benefits provided by law.

Hospitals are full

The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) has decided to temporarily close its outpatient department for walk-in consultations and unscheduled face-to-face visits as the number of health-care workers infected with COVID-19 in the facility continued to rise.

Special adviser of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 Ted Herbosa said that more than 500 doctors, nurses and medical technologists of PGH had tested positive for COVID-19. He said the COVID-19 wards in NCR were now 65-percent occupied.

Pasay City General Hospital, in an announcement on Jan. 5, said it reached its full capacity for COVID-19 ICU beds, ward beds and emergency isolation rooms. Ospital ng Muntinlupa has also reached its maximum capacity on Sunday, according to the city’s public information office.

In San Juan City, the bed occupancy rate in Kalinga Center reached 115.24 percent, or 121 of the 105 capacity. At the San Juan Medical Center, 56 beds out of the 75 available, or 74.66 percent, were occupied.

In the City of Manila, the six district hospitals reached more than half of their bed capacity for COVID-19 cases.

Ospital ng Maynila, Ospital ng Sampaloc, Justice Jose Abad Santos General Hospital, Gat Andres Bonifacio Medical Center, Ospital ng Tondo and Sta. Ana Hospital have a total of 494 COVID beds. As of Jan. 9, 251 of these, or 51 percent, were already occupied.

In two northern Manila hospitals, the number of infected health-care workers now far outpace the number of sick nonmedical staff—an unprecedented new trend that showcased Omicron’s contagiousness.

Fortunately, all the health-care workers were vaccinated and thus exhibited only mild to moderate symptoms, according to the spokespersons of East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium (Tala Hospital) in Caloocan City.

No to shortened quarantines

Health-care workers, meanwhile, have also opposed the new government policy shortening the isolation and quarantine protocols for medical workers with exposure to COVID-19 cases.

“[This] will pose further danger to the health and safety of health workers as well as the patients. This will also further accelerate the proliferation and spread of infection,” the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said in a statement.

The group said the new policy was “inhumane and unjust” to health workers who risk their lives battling the infectious and deadly coronavirus.

The group stressed that health workers with high-risk exposure to COVID-19, with or without symptoms, should be quarantined and undergo free, regular and mandatory reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.

AHW called on the government to implement a mass hiring of regular health workers with living wage, stressing that the solution to sustaining the country’s health-care capacity was by preventing public hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The Filipino Nurses United also criticized the new policy on quarantine and isolation for health-care workers, stressing that it compromised their own health and safety.

Tags: #DoH, #Omicronnowadominantvariant, #criticalrisk, #healthcareworkersaresick, #COVID19

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