Why are local health officials so secretive about COVID-19?

Just four days after four medical associations in Bicol appealed to DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano for help in upgrading the Quarantine Classification of the Bicol region to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the Catanduanes Medical Society has chimed in with its own, similar request to the provincial government.

The ECQ implementation for two to four weeks, the local association of medical practitioners said, would halt community transmission that is believed to have led to increasing COVID-19 cases and a recent surge in hospital admissions.

“If the present situation is not addressed, we fear that our healthcare system will be overwhelmed,” it stressed. “We may run out of the necessary equipment and supplies, and most importantly, manpower.”

The Society’s COVID Response Team blamed the spike in new cases to laxity in the implementation of quarantine protocols and minimum health standards, slow and inadequate testing, failure to assure compliance to quarantine protocols, lack of vaccine supply, and inadequate border control.

Aside from stricter requirements in border control, quarantine procedures and implementation of health protocols, the CMS also urged hospitals to allocate 30 percent of their total bed capacity for COVID wards to accommodate the increase in admissions of mild and moderate cases.

That the medical society has taken an urgent tone with regards to the continued spike in new cases since May 2021 should be a wake-up call for local chief executives, who are dependent on their own health authorities for guidance in the battle against the pandemic.

What is more alarming, at this critical stage, is that even the Provincial Health Office, the Department of Health (DOH) provincial office, and the Incident Management Team (IMT) of the Capitol’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) are not on the same page with regards to community transmission of the disease.

It may be recalled that after DOH provincial officer Dr. Robert John Aquino told an emergency meeting of the Provincial IATF that there is already local transmission, the IMT headed by Dr. Angel Albert Lamban reportedly took issue with the declaration, forcing Dr. Aquino and the PHO to request the Regional Epidemiological Surveillance Unit (RESU) to make the final ruling.

There is also a dearth of information available to the public regarding the situation, particularly the pace of new infections and hospital admissions, and the status of dedicated COVID wards in the three referral hospitals of Eastern Bicol Medical Center, Immaculate Heart of Mary Hospital, and the Catanduanes Doctors Hospital, Inc.

Last week, the Tribune sought information from the IMT at the Capitol regarding the hospital utilization rate as far as COVID cases in Catanduanes is concerned.

It was advised to get the data from the PHO’s top doctors, but the latter claimed that the hospitals send the date directly to the IMT through Dr. Lamban.

Why it has proven difficult for the local media to access vital information on the campaign against coronavirus is a big mystery.

But not the local health officials’ palpable reluctance to engage with journalists, since the last press conference on COVID that it held for the benefit of local media was more than two months ago.

It appears that, like the Catanduanes police, the local health officials have been stricken by another but equally infectious virus brought by the Data Privacy Act.

With Camp Camacho deleting the names of those arrested in legitimate anti-criminality operations, the PHO, IMT and counterparts at the municipal level are likewise keeping vital information from the public, who deserve to know how the campaign against coronavirus is faring.

They, along with their LGU bosses, should not blame fearful citizens if the public pines for a Sorsogon-style openness in the anti-COVID battle, complete with the names and addresses of confirmed cases, for easier contact tracing and greater awareness of the danger of contracting the disease.

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