The Provincial Health Office (PHO) in an emergency meeting last Monday by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC) lambasted the last-ditch efforts by municipal local government units (LGUs) to monitor new arrivals.
This comes after a surge of Catandunganons over the weekend fled the impending Manila quarantine, which took effect on March 15 at 12 midnight.
PHO chief Hazel Palmes explained that the LGUs had already been oriented by her office to “prepare for the worst” when COVID-19 breaks out on the island.
“We established a system; unfortunately, we are sad and disappointed, kasi dito natin nakikita ngayon, sinabi natin sa MHOs, mag-simulation kayo. Kasi hindi pwede sa crisis na mismo, dangan kita mag-simulation at mag-tingin kita kung sain kita nag-fail,” Palmes said.
She noted that the system failed despite the series of inter-agency meetings, trainings, and orientation since January.
“[T]his is reality. Hindi tayo pwedeng gumawa ng bagong guidelines ngayon because we want the system to work. It’s too late. Nandyan na. Umiikot na. At tsaka pa lang tayo gagawa ngayon,” she said.
She also criticized some of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams’ (BHERT) failure to act on the new arrivals despite the training.
“Nag-ilang percent sa Virac because Virac host[s] the majority… What happened? ‘Yung iba nag-training pero hindi inaksyunan. You were so complacent. ‘Yung iba naman, wala nang pakialam,” she said.
Palmes explained that because the BHERTs failed to impose the non-contact policy and the referral system for PUIs and PUMs, some people panic and go to the hospital, risking infection for health workers and other patients and depleting the hospitals’ supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).
“[A]ng mangyayari po, nang dahil hindi natin pinatupad ang sistema ng non-contact, ‘yung ating bilang-bilang po sa daliri po na PPEs, naubos na. We cannot put at risk the lives of our health workers. Once pumunta dun, talangang mag-fufull battle gear ‘yun,” she explained.
The PHO chief added that the hospitals cannot entertain those not deemed by the Municipal Health Offices (MHOs) as PUIs because of the strain on supplies.
“Because of our resources, we cannot afford to accommodate anyone. So sinabi natin ilan pa ba na kits ang meron kayo for your isolation room? Binilang natin ‘yun. Ilan lang ventilator natin sa probinsya. Binilang na natin ‘yun,” Palmes said.
At the start of the meeting, Acting Governor Shirley Abundo wondered why it seemed the mayors were not properly informed on the activation of the BHERTs as they kept asking questions.
“Lahat nung gagawin ng probinsya, ginawa na po namin. Lahat ng training, auya po ang DOH, ilang beses tayo nagmeeting para i-activate ang BHERT, because everything will start sa barangay. In place po. Kung sumusunod ang munisipyo at ang barangay, in place na dapat kamo, kasi January pa lang, talagang pina-activate na po namin ang BHERT. Ngayon, anong nangyayari, ba’t nagkakagulo na tayo?” she asked.
Dr. Palmes recalled that from the start, the task force already conducted an inventory of resources of the LGUs and they were advised to mobilize their resources.
Expressing sadness that the mayors do not know what is going on, the PHO chief noted that whenever the task force called for coordination meetings, not all of the chief executives attended.
“Nandito lang tayo ngayon kasi andito na. It’s too late. Kaya ang problema po ngayon, lahat ng desisyon nila, tinatawag sa akin,” Palmes added.
With regards to the referral system, she said it has already been established, as to who is in command and who shall decide whether the patient is to be brought on the designated transport facility.
“We already forewarned them. We always have to prepare for the worst. Kasi we do not know, we are not certain… Una pa man, we have said this is a new virus, and we are not ready for this,” she remarked.
During an EREID inter-agency meeting, it was agreed that the shipping lines would do the disinfection of their facilities and to ensure that information on the passengers would be gathered at the PPA Port of Tabaco for future use in contract tracing.
“Kasi we don’t have time na pag-abot digdi magkaroon ning bottleneck ta nakapila. ‘Yun na yung failure ng system, kasi hindi nakikinig,” Palmes stated, adding that had the system been in place, information would already be available on the possible COVID-19 patient, those who were in contact and how the BHERTs would handle the situation upon their arrival at their destinations.
“The system failed because we did not coordinate, because our mindset is panic. So we cannot rationally decide,” the health officer stressed. “You have to talk to your LCE who has the executory power to mobilize resources. Hindi sa kami lang. You only have to recommend what is appropriate, that it is up to the LCE.”
The emergency meeting came on the heels of the acting governor’s issuance of Executive Order No. 15 providing strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus in Catanduanes.
EO No. 15 prohibits entry into the province of visitors and tourists, including all of its residents who manifest symptoms of COVID-19 via seaports, airport and other points of entry effective March 15, 2020 until April 14, 2020 or until further advised.
The only exceptions are persons who transport laboratory specimens, blood and blood products; those who are attending Official Travel duly approved by authorities certified by a government physician that the person traveling is free of signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19; and, all persons working in Catanduanes.
Anyone who manifests symptoms of COVID-19 shall immediately submit themselves for treatment at the nearest health facility outside the province, the order states, with all travelers entering the province to present proof of residency.
The trade of goods and services, however, is not restricted so as to ensure sustainably-functioning communities.
The order likewise imposes a 14-day mandatory quarantine and self-monitoring on all qualified arriving individuals and those whom they are in contact with, with the individuals to monitor body temperature twice a day and check if they have a cough, shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms or diarrhea.
The manifestation of any of the symptoms shall be reported daily by the individual concerned to the BHERT through a call or text message until completion of the quarantine period.
All mass gatherings are prohibited for now, including seminars, trainings, fiestas, barangay assemblies, parties, events, medical missions, cockfighting, and other related activities until further notice as a precautionary measure.
All public places as well as transport facilities, including rooms and utensils used by those in quarantine, are to be subjected to cleaning and disinfection.
The EO was followed with another order suspending classes and school activities in all levels, private and public, until April 14, 2020, with students to continue fulfilling their requirements during the period and teachers to work at home checking papers, preparing grades and reports.
EO No. 15 issued on March 16 also activated the Emergency Operations Center of the province, with municipalities and barangays advised to do the same.
In reaction to the initial directive of the provincial government, the Diocese of Virac canceled all public masses beginning March 14, 2020 and advised priests to celebrate the Eucharist, other liturgical services and spiritual activities through live streaming using the internet, television, or radio.
Private masses will be allowed at the discretion of the parish priests using a loudspeaker so that the faithful could follow the celebration in their respective houses. Funeral masses, however, may be allowed subject to certain guidelines, with priests and deacons not allowed to accompany the funeral procession.
“We cancel recollections, pilgrimages, meetings, processions, Via Crucis and other activities since these are occasions to gather people in large numbers,” the Catholic Church stated.
“Churches will remain open so that those who need to pray and seek prayerful moments may find solace and strength in these trying times,” it stressed.
However, it discouraging people from going to small Adoration Chapels with airconditioning and hardly any windows as it would be difficult to maintain social distancing.
Ministering to the sick would continue following necessary precautions proposed by the DOH, it said further.