IT has been more than five months since the local outbreak in the Philippines of the devastating disease called COVID-19 and we have been inured to the daily statistics being churned out by the Department of Health (DOH) here and by the World Health Organization (WHO) abroad.
There have been many changes in the way the country and the rest of the world are fighting the pandemic since the middle of March, when the WHO officially called it a pandemic. In a couple of months, humanity grappled with knowing what the coronavirus is all about, most importantly, how does it spread to communities. From denying that it can be airborne, now the WHO has tended to uphold the theory of some 200 scientists, doctors and medical professionals and researchers that in fact, airborne transmission especially in small, confined, indoor spaces, is most likely. This somehow put in question the “stay at home” call and policy, and upholds the “wear the face mask” admonition.
So now we note that Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who is co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the panel which relishes on its long, high-sounding name, says home quarantine is no longer advisable for COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or with only mild symptoms.
Nograles stressed that the government is now discouraging home treatment and would prefer all patients, however light or severe the symptoms, to complete quarantines in health and isolation facilities to prevent the local transmission of the virus.
It is correct that home quarantine exposes family members to the virus carried by the positive patient even if they are isolated in a separate room. It boggles the mind to know that only now has the inter-agency task force realized that.
It is good that the Palace announced that 72 percent of the bed capacity in government quarantine facilities remains available, while some 28,000 beds are available in hospitals. Of the 8,400 hospital beds allotted for COVID-19 patients in Metro Manila, only 3,602 are occupied.
Another important fact that mayors, governors, barangay chairmen, immigration and airport authorities have been oblivious about is that localized quarantines should be observed for 14 days and not a day less. Nograles reiterated that the incubation period for these cases takes no less than two weeks, and this should guide local officials in declaring localized lockdowns.
Now is the time to remind all Filipinos to observe minimum health protocols such as wearing face masks, frequent hand washing, and observing social distancing regardless of where you are. We see in the news that even US President Donald Trump, who used to abhor wearing face masks because it would suggest a visual weakness in this time of an election campaign, donned one during his visit to a military hospital. Meanwhile, Florida reported its highest rate of infection and deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Our government, through Nograles, has only one and important message to the people – there is no room for complacency.