DOH: Country back to 2020 peak levels

    Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau interviewed on PTV-4. (Screengrab from YouTube)

    10 of 17 regions show increase in cases

    TEN of the country’s 17 regions have recorded increases in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, the Department of Health said yesterday as it noted that the country is seeing a repeat of last year’s peak levels.

    Dr. Alethea de Guzman, director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, said current record highs in COVID-19 cases are similar to the ones reported last year at the height of the pandemic.

    “In the past weeks, we were almost at the peak of last year. Now, we have already reached the peak we saw last July,” De Guzman said, referring to the weekly average of cases recorded in July 2020 with around 28,000 new cases detected in a week.

    DOH records show the Philippines has seen a 57 percent growth rate in cases for the past two weeks, or over 15,000 more than the cases four weeks ago.

    De Guzman said a large factor in the surge is the growth rate seen in 10 regions of the country. “Ten of 17 regions are with positive growth,” she said.

    Monitoring records show the 10 regions with positive growth rates were the National Capital Region (141%), Cordillera Administrative Region (19%), Calabarzon (115%), Central Luzon (98%), Cagayan Valley (36%), Western Visayas (10%), Mimaropa (106%), Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (63%), Bicol Region (25%), and Northern Mindanao (24%).

    De Guzman reiterated that the surge in COVID-19 cases is being caused by a combination of the presence of the variants as well as the public’s non-compliance to minimum public health standards (MPHS).

    She said different COVID-19 variants have been detected in seven regions, with the NCR having both the United Kingdom (UK) and South African variants.

    Data showed that the UK variant is in CAR (41), Central Luzon (2), NCR (39), Calabarzon (4), and Central Visayas (1).

    On the other hand, the South African variant have been detected in Cagayan Valley (2), NCR (64), and Western Visayas (1).

    The remaining 74 cases of either the UK or South African variants were detected from arriving international travelers.

    De Guzman said areas where the COVID-19 variants were detected are not the only ones experiencing surge in cases. “But, even in places where we haven’t detected the variants, we can still see a surge in these regions and provinces,” she said.

    She pointed at how respondents in their informal survey showed that correct masking is being complied by 91 percent of respondents, but only 32 percent use their face shields correctly.

    The Private Hospital Association of the Philippines (PHAPI) said 20 private hospitals in Metro Manila are already swamped with COVID-19 patients and are already at critical level in terms of occupancy rate.

    In a virtual press briefing, PHAPI President Dr Jose de Grano said: “In NCR, at least 20 big hospitals are already at critical level of occupancy. That means their occupancy rate is already more than 85 percent.”

    Twenty-three hospitals, he said, are considered to be at high risk as their occupancy rate is already from 70 to 85 percent.

    The DOH said the One Hospital Command is already receiving requests for transfers to other private hospitals.

    “If they are already fully occupied, we send them to Region 3 or 4A. That’s what’s happening now, especially involving private hospitals. We really need to transport them to facilities with vacancies,” said Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega in a radio interview.

    But if cases continue to surge, the health official said they are worried that the healthcare system may already be overwhelmed. “If we cannot contain the transmission, we may be overwhelmed, especially if the ICU and isolation wards reach 80 percent,” said Vega.

    In Makati City, city government spokesman Don Camiña said the total hospital bed occupancy rate in the city has reached 87.8 percent as of March 17.

    Ospital ng Makati (OsMak) is now under critical level, with all of its 94 beds already occupied. On the other hand, 98 out of Makati Medical Center’s 120 bed allocation for COVID-19 patients are already occupied. It is on high risk level.

    The St. Claire Medical Center is now on moderate risk level for having its nine beds occupied by COVID-19 patients out of its 15 total beds capacity. – With Noel Talacay