Local execs, public warned against publishing unverified COVID-19 info

A stern warning was issued last week by the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease against local chief executives as well as the general public in the disclosure of unverified and false information on COVID-19.

In Resolution No. 4 issued last March 26, 2020, the task force said that the warning is intended to alleviate public anxiety and impose uniformity in risk communication after it received reports that certain local executives publicized COVID-19 data or information which are unverified.

Reminding that the sole valid source of information and updates on the disease is the Department of Health (DOH), it stressed that the Secretary of Health or his authorized representative shall be the first to announce updates on confirmed cases of COVID-19, Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) and Persons Under Monitoring (PUMs).

The resolution underscored that all information to be relayed by the LCEs should be based on and coming from the DOH and other competent government agencies to ensure its accuracy, and in order to avoid undue public anxiety and panic.

In holding press conferences or media briefings, they must be accompanied by local DOH officials or responsible resource persons to provide accurate, relevant and timely updates on the issue and to dispel rumors, mal-information (fake news), misinformation and disinformation about the virus and accompanying concerns, the task force said.

Posting or spreading through writings, electronic means and others of the untrue information when its authenticity is not assured prior to publicizing them exposes violators to administrative and criminal actions for intentionally providing misinformation in violation of Republic Act 11332, cybercrime, open disobedience, refusal of assistance, and disclosing or misusing confidential or classified inf0ormation.

This warning was apparently ignored last Saturday when rumors apparently coming from local health officials claimed that a public official who had been confined in a local hospital days earlier had shown COVID-19 symptoms.

A Facebook post announcing the development soon spread, with the public’s curiosity piqued and their fear of the virus stoked upon learning from social media that the personality had been staying in an isolation room situated on the ground floor of a two-story building separate from the hospital and beside residential houses.

According to neighbors, the ground floor of the building hosted the physical therapy unit before it was converted into an isolation room while the second floor has been utilized as a doctor’s quarters.

Sources inside the hospital, however, said that the public official was admitted after complaining of dizziness and a fainting spell during a meeting.

He was discharged on Sunday morning after reportedly feeling fine and was seen boarding a car together with his driver, allegedly on the way to his farm where he would undergo self-quarantine.

That afternoon, hospital personnel clad in Personal Protective Equipment sprayed disinfectant inside the hospital, on the public road leading to the building where the patient was confined, and inside the isolation room as well as at the second floor where the official’s attending doctor and nurse stayed during his confinement.

The Provincial Task Force on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases Task Force (PTF-EREID) did not issue a statement on the controversy.

A day before the story broke, Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr. told the media that Virac has 1,107 PUMs, of which 314 had already completed the 14-day quarantine, 13 PUIs under home quarantine and one PUI admitted to the hospital. He refused to give any more details, saying he is not authorized to disclose the information.

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