Two incidents last week vividly illustrated why Acting Governor Shirley Abundo is growing increasingly frustrated at the way the battle to keep COVID-19 at bay is being fought in the municipalities.
On Friday, the social media went abuzz with rumors that a politician confined in a private hospital has shown symptoms similar to the disease now spreading around the world.
The man was admitted after complaining of dizziness and difficulty of breathing due to his asthma. His confinement at a converted isolation room in a building across a busy public street from the hospital naturally raised suspicion among nosy neighbors, who had seen health personnel in PPEs going inside the room.
While the man was discharged Sunday morning after feeling better, the residents became alarmed again when two men clad in PPEs and carrying a self-contained sprayer/misting unit, entered the building and disinfected the premises in the afternoon.
According to reliable reports, the politician was neither a Person Under Investigation (PUI) or a Person Under Monitoring (PUM).
On Sunday, an elderly woman, accompanied by a 20-year old relative, sought admission at the Eastern Bicol Medical Center, complaining of various symptoms including a sore throat. Personnel brought her to the medical ward where, upon questioning, she admitted that her companion was a PUM, a fact they did not disclose at the triage area.
The furor that both incidents caused on social media and at the hospital demonstrates that the elaborate protocol that the Provincial Task Force on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (PTF-EREID) is not working at the barangay and municipal levels.
As of Friday, a source told the Tribune, the Provincial Health Office had only half of the list of PUMs from Virac, despite the fact that a week had passed since the arrival of last trip of the ferry that carried stranded passengers from the mainland.
In some barangays, the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) never went around to ask whether the houses had recent arrivals from Manila or elsewhere.
Reports are rife that PUIs and PUMs are freely roaming around in many areas, putting into question the effectiveness of barangays in containing what could turn out to be coronavirus carriers.
Under the updated DOH Algorithm for Triage of Patients with Possible COVID-19 Infection in Health Facilities, a patient with fever and/or cough or shortness of breath and with travel to or residence in an area reporting local virus transmission or close contact with a confirmed case, with the symptoms occurring within 14 days of exposure, are considered as PUI.
This same algorithm provides that there will be no need to test those non-elderly with mild symptoms. They will be sent away for quarantine at home or at barangay isolation units.
Only those who have mild symptoms, are elderly and/or with pre-existing conditions, as well as those considered in severe and critical conditions will be admitted to a designated COVID-19 isolation area. Only then will they be tested for the presence of COVID-19.
In only two cases are non-PUIs and non-PUMs admitted to the hospital: a patient with severe acute respiratory infection or atypical pneumonia and requiring hospitalization with no other reason for his ailment, as well as a cluster of influenza-like illness in a household or a workplace.
Give credit to the police and the army as well as volunteers for keeping the population’s movement to the minimum. But the way the 14-day quarantine for PUMs in the barangays is being run does not inspire confidence that COVID-19 will not strike terror in the hearts of Catandunganons.
With the quarantine of those who arrived before March 17 completed, it is highly possible that the first suspect COVID-19 case would be discovered this week, brought by anyone among the scores of stranded passengers who came to the island more than a week ago or the cargo truck drivers going around towns, having refused to be quarantined.
As it is already too late to put the lid back on Pandora’s box, so to speak, the authorities can do nothing but wait for the wave of COVID-19 patients to overwhelm the understaffed and poorly-equipped local hospitals.
This may be misconstrued as rumor-mongering intended to sow public panic, but the reality on the ground necessitates that the public finally hunker down in their homes for the next two weeks or possibly get infected.
Staying in or coming out could spell the difference between life and death.