With local government units told to create task forces against the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV), authorities in Catanduanes have begun scanning the temperature of arriving passengers at the Virac airport, with its counterparts at Tabaco port reportedly now conducting pre-departure check and health screening of all ferry passengers bound for the island.
The preemptive measures came after the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) chaired by Acting Governor Shirley Abundo received a briefing last Thursday (Jan. 30, 2020) from Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes on the results of the coordination meeting held a day earlier with local health stakeholders.
At the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC), the management has set up a tent to serve as a temporary triage area pending the establishment of a suitable location and isolation room for Persons Under Investigation (PUI) and possible nCov patients.
In the coordination meeting conducted by the PHO in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), Dr. Palmes said Catanduanes is not spared from the nCoV threat as people cannot be stopped from moving about.
“We should be ready in case one nCov case appears,” she said, adding that proper action would prevent panic.
She also urged LGUs to be responsive and proactive and to enhance their preparedness to implement proper procedures.
Among those who were in the meeting were chiefs of the seven public hospitals, representatives from the three private hospitals in Virac, Rural Health Unit doctors and health personnel, private clinics, dentists, local disaster management officials, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), barangay captains of coastal areas with small ports, the media and other stakeholders.
In providing an update on the nCoV outbreak, Provincial Health Officer I Dr. Franchette Amabella Panti, anyone will be considered a Person Under Investigation (PUI) for possible nCoV infection if he or she has cough and colds, and fever equal to or greater than 38 degrees Centigrade with or without exposure to the virus. The same action will be taken with regards to those without fever, she clarified.
Standard precautions will have to be taken by health personnel, who would have to wear face masks, goggles, and gloves along with their gowns in the triage area to be set up at the hospital lobby or emergency room.
“Infection control should be a way of life, not just for nCoV but also for other infectious diseases,” Dr. Panti underscored.
Those who are suspected to have been infected will have to be quarantined for 10 to 14 days to monitor their symptoms. Once admitted to the hospital, any nCoV patients will not be allowed to move out in order to prevent further transmission.
Public and private health practitioners were reminded of their obligation to report any suspected nCoV case or any notifiable disease pursuant to law and as part of their obligation as licensed hospitals or clinics.
The meeting also discussed the possibility that the virus may gain entry into the island not through the airport and the two main ports but along the coastlines of San Andres, Caramoran and Pandan where motorized bancas from the mainland dock at the small ports at Cabcab, Codon, Bislig, Bocon, Toytoy and Pandan and also along the shores.
Barangays in said areas will have to require boat operators to furnish a manifest of passengers to enable contact tracing and if possible check if those aboard are seeking treatment for an unspecified illness, particularly severe acute respiratory infection.
Among the other measures recommended for implementation were the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the institution of infection control measures at hospitals, and an information drive to encourage the public to resort to frequent hand washing and observe proper cough etiquette.