DOH sets hospital meet as new COVID-19 cases top 3,000 again
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) said on Saturday that it had been receiving reports of a rise in COVID-19 admissions at various hospitals and urged the public to continue strict compliance with health protocols to prevent more infections.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH would call hospital chiefs and its regional directors to a meeting to determine the causes of the growing number of patients and what could be done about it.
“Nothing is uncontrollable at this point. We are trying to manage it, actually,” Vergeire said during Saturday’s Laging Handa briefing.
The health official did not say where the hospital admissions were reported.
Vergeire said that with the “marked increase” in cases, the public must do its part by following health protocols and staying at home as much as they could.
“If we are unable to control this, the [health-care] system might be overwhelmed,” she said.
Vergeire said the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is mainly due to the failure to follow minimum public health standards, and the presence of the more transmissible variants of the coronavirus were just “aggravating factors.”
Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist and member of the technical working group on data analytics of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), on Friday said the surge in the cases might be due to the spread of the UK and the more infectious South African variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the severe respiratory disease.
The DOH reported 3,439 cases on Saturday, the second straight day the figure went above the 3,000 mark, and the highest since the 3,564 reported on Oct. 12, 2020.
DOH figures available for comparison show that in the national capital, the number of cases climbed from 740 on Feb. 25 to 1,036 a week later on March 4.
One hospital that reported a sudden rise in the number of cases was the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where authorities decided to pull out clinical interns and clerks from their duties.
Interns are graduates of medicine who have not yet passed the board exam for doctors but are allowed to handle patients alongside clerks, who are students in their final year of medical school, and residents—physicians in training for their specializations.
“We have noticed that for the past six days, there was an increase in the number of health-care workers who are COVID positive,” PGH spokesperson Jonas del Rosario said, confirming the Inquirer’s report on Saturday.
“With the looming news that there’s an increase in COVID-19 cases in communities and with an increase in COVID-19 admissions in PGH … the prudent way to proceed is to pull out our medical students from their clinical rotations,” he said.
The doctor said that about two weeks earlier, the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to PGH was around 70, fewer than the 200 beds allotted for such cases by the hospital.
But since the beginning of March, the hospital has been admitting around 100 COVID-19 patients daily, he said.
Del Rosario, who was himself infected with the coronavirus last year, said monitors noted an “unusual rise” of COVID-19 cases among PGH health-care workers, including some residents.
“In the first four days of March, we had 15, which is unusual because normally in a month we record around 10 cases among our health-care workers,” he said. Two of the 15 were hospitalized while the rest were mildly symptomatic.
The “preemptive measure” was intended to prevent medical students from being “unduly exposed just in case we have the new variants already in PGH, which could be more contagious and more lethal,” Del Rosario said.
The DOH on Saturday said the 3,439 new infections pushed the country’s total caseload to 591,138. It said 160 patients have recovered, raising the number of survivors to 535,350. The 42 new deaths reported brought the total fatality count to 12,465.
The deaths and recoveries left 43,323 active cases of which 90 percent were mild, 5.6 percent asymptomatic, 1.8 percent critical, 1.8 percent severe and 0.75 percent moderate.
Available COVID beds
Vergeire said the country was benefiting from earlier efforts to increase COVID-19 beds in hospitals and making sure that they could accommodate patients. Since November, utilization has not exceeded 50 percent, she added.
“And that is what is going to work for us right now, that we can accommodate more patients, if ever,” Vergeire said.
The DOH has also activated the One Hospital Command, a health-care referral network, and “Oplan Kalinga,” a program to provide isolation facilities to people with COVID-19 but have no quarantine facilities at home, she said.
Additional figures from DOH’s own COVID-19 tracker showed at least 55 hospitals were operating at “critical” capacity, meaning at least 85 percent of their beds were occupied.
It said 1,053 hospitals were “safe,” or with less than 60 percent of their beds occupied. Another 47 hospitals have “moderate” occupancy of 60 percent to less than 75 percent of their beds occupied.
There were 37 “high risk” hospitals with 70 percent to less than 85 percent occupancy. Nationwide, the DOH said 60 percent of intensive care unit beds were still available. In addition, 65 percent of isolation beds, and 75 percent of ward beds remain unoccupied, the DOH said.
The March 4 report, however, did not specify where these hospitals were located.
‘Back to square one’
Del Rosario said PGH was “back to square one” when it barred clerks and interns during the early days of the pandemic.
“We thought, the ‘anniversary’ of [the COVID outbreak in the hospital] is approaching, and we have expanded our non-COVID operations with the decrease in cases,” he said.
But with the new cases this month, Del Rosario said the hospital had to once more close its outpatient department, suspend elective services and stop in person consultations with patients.
“So I said, what a way to welcome our anniversary. It’s like déjà vu. Now we have a more virulent virus,” he said.
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