House suspends remaining sessions this week due to rising COVID-19 cases

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2020 09:40 PM

MANILA - The House of Representatives has opted to suspend its remaining plenary session this week as the number of coronavirus cases in the country continues to rise.

The plenary session was suspended Tuesday, with Monday announced as the date of resumption.

In a statement, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez explained that the suspension is in response to clamor from House employees who report to work regularly despite the recent upsurge of COVID 19 cases in Metro Manila. 

“The session break will give ample time for a thorough disinfection of all offices and facilities in the House of Representatives and give employees a brief respite from the aggravation caused by the spike in COVID cases," he said.

Romualdez revealed that the House leadership decided on the suspension of Wednesday's session only after the chamber approved on third and final reading the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill and four other national bills which are part of the government's COVID response measures. 

“The session break will also enable the various committees of the House of Representative to fast-track the reporting out of all COVID-related measures for plenary consideration when we resume session," he said.

The suspension of the plenary session comes after the Senior Citizens Party List confirmed that its congressional representative Francisco "Jun" Datol died of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda is cautioning the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that unless major increases in ICU capacity are made in the coming days, the occupancy rate of ICUs in hospitals are likely to hit the 70% “danger level” set by the Department of Health (DOH) next week.

The observation echoes the DOH's pronouncements on the need to expand critical care facilities, along with "zoning containment" strategies and stricter implementation of minimum health standards.

“My outbreak science team and I ran the numbers. When the national numbers hit 70% occupancy, some regions face even tougher conditions, because that’s a national average that includes lower rates from non-critical regions,” said Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

“As a citizen, I pray that our cases increase more slowly, but as a policymaker, I need to prepare the country for the worst," he said.

"If the worst happens, and next week, we hit 150,000 total confirmed cased, by next week we will see our national ICU capacity hit the 70% danger level,” the House tax panel chair warned.

“That’s why I am working with the relevant agencies to ensure that we expand our hospital capacity. I have received assurances that the best preparations are being done, but my team will keep running the numbers, to aid the IATF and the Congressional leadership on what needs to be done better."

Salceda’s paper noted that ward beds are getting occupied faster than ICU beds and other facilities for critical care.

“The faster utilization of wards may be due to the lack of filters for mild cases. We have noticed that, in some regions, such as the National Capital Region, wards are being used up faster than ICUs or mechanical ventilators. This may be an indication of a lack of filtering mechanisms to ensure that those who do not need hospitalization (i.e., regular in-residence case would suffice) are not being made to go to the hospital,” the paper stated.

“To ensure that wards are not filled up, our capacity for COVID-19 telemedicine for mild cases may have to be boosted. The DOH COVID-19 emergency hotlines 02-894-COVID (02-894-26843) and 1555 are currently being utilized only to support diagnosis and to provide information. We urge the Department of Health to study how these hotlines may be expanded to be used as e-health services for those who have not been confirmed as COVID-19 positive cases but are demonstrating symptoms of the disease,” Salceda wrote.

“The expansion of telemedicine for COVID-19 would ensure that mild cases are not exposed to the risks attendant to being in overloaded hospitals, and our health care workers are able to attend to those who are in most need of medical services. My office will also be proposing a telemedicine framework in the coming days.”

Salceda said that “the reimposition of the modified enhanced community quarantine over Regions III, IV-A, and NCR is an opportunity to boost hospital capacity in key areas.”

“Estimates of how much additional capacity is needed to ensure that infection rates in these areas stay below the hospital capacity “danger level” of 70% will be useful as a benchmark to determine whether the MECQ has been used prudently. That’s why we’re doing these numbers.”

“By the end of the third quarter, we will need the following additional facilities: 642 ICU beds, 4,450 isolation beds, 2,897 ward beds, and 240 mechanical ventilators, to keep hospitals in the MECQ regions of Region III, IV-A, and NCR from exceeding the 70% “danger level” threshold,” Salceda wrote.

“I’m also in touch with the medical community, who are my friends and allies in the various health reforms we have pushed for. I will be proposing to the House leadership that we have regular points-of-contact with the medical community’s leadership so that no critical information gets withheld from decision makers,” Salceda said.