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DOH: Bicol virus cases may double by January

DAILY TEST The Albay Provincial Health Office conducts a swab test on people who have been exposed to new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients. Photo taken in a rural health unit in Daraga town, Albay province, on Thursday. —MARK ALVIC ESPLANA

LEGAZPI CITY — The Department of Health (DOH) in Bicol has projected that the number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the region may double by January next year unless measures are taken to keep out possible carriers of the disease, mostly returning residents.

The Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said contingency measures have to be strictly enforced to address the surging cases of COVID-19 spawned by the influx of thousands of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) returning home to the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, and Catanduanes.

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Dr. Ernie Vera, director of the DOH in Bicol and the assistant Bicol IATF chair, said that without these measures, COVID-19 cases in the region could reach 1,200 by January next year, mainly due to the government’s Hatid Pobinsiya, a program aimed at sending home thousands of LSIs from Metro Manila and other virus hot spots in the country.

Latest DOH data showed that the number of cases in the Bicol region has risen to 551, almost half of which involved LSIs.

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According to Vera, Bicol recorded only seven cases in March. It went up to nearly 40 in June. But by July, the new cases of about one to three every two days has risen to about 10 cases per day.

But the region recorded 39 new cases on Wednesday, the highest so far since March, mainly due to the arrival of LSIs who tested positive for the virus, Vera said on Thursday.

He said the number could be higher if arriving LSIs were not required to undergo the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and for them to test negative in the swab test before they could return to their communities.

Hiring front-liners

To ensure that the virus situation in the region would not lead to local transmission, health protocols have to be strictly followed, he said.

Vera added that among the measures to reduce the number of virus infections would include the stricter screening of LSIs entering the various Bicol borders, intensifying contact tracing down to the barangay level, and the setting up of additional quarantine and isolation facilities in every province, town, and city.

The DOH Bicol was looking to hire 77 disease surveillance officers to be assigned to different government hospitals. Ten data collectors were hired, while nine data encoders for Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory, one of the region’s only two testing centers, were brought in, he added.

The Bicol IATF also said that it needed 60 additional physicians to man the facilities treating virus patients but no one has applied so far. In order to address the shortage, the DOH has accepted medical and nursing interns from various educational institutions and sent them to hospitals and isolation facilities in the region.

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Medical front-liners are among the most vulnerable to infection. In Bicol, 45 front-liners have tested positive for COVID-19, DOH Bicol data showed.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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