MANILA - The OCTA Research Group on Wednesday identified 4 local government units as "high risk" for the period December 1-7 as increased mobility led to a rise in COVID-19 cases as well as high hospital occupancy.
In a report released early Wednesday, OCTA Research Group identified the 4 LGUs as Makati City in the National Capital Region, Mankayan and Baguio City in Benguet, and Davao City in Davao del Sur.
"We are concerned that these LGUs may experience high hospital burden in the coming weeks that may stress their health care systems and overwhelm their medical front-liners," the group said.
It added: "With this increased mobility, we should expect a gradual rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila. This does not have to be a cause of concern as long as the clusters of cases are contained by our LGU contact tracing teams."
Davao City topped the list of LGUs with the most new COVID-19 cases per day at 104 cases for the period of December 1-7, for an attack rate of 5.5%. Its hospital occupancy is at 64%, which is still below the critical threshold of 70 percent established by the Department of Health.
Other LGUs with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per day during the same period include Quezon City (80), Manila (48), Pasig (37), Makati (36) and Baguio City (32).
OCTA Research, however, flagged Mankayan for having 100 percent hospital occupancy while Makati City had 80 percent, both above the 70 percent threshold set by DOH.
Muntinlupa was also flagged for having 84% hospital occupancy, followed by San Pablo, Laguna (74%) and La Trinidad, Benguet (71%).
SOME PROVINCES SHOW COVID SPIKES
The group noted that even though the Philippines' daily infections are decreasing, some provinces in Luzon like Benguet, Isabela, Bataan, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan and Cagayan recorded surges in COVID-19 cases. Leyte also reported spikes in infections.
The ratio of people testing positive of COVID-19 also increased in Quezon province, Benguet, Isabela and Cagayan from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, the researchers said.
"This may still be due to a lag in infections as a result of the recent typhoons and flooding," they said.
The group noted that the reproduction number of transmission rate of the COVID-19 disease in the capital region fell to 0.92 percent from 0.94 percent during the same timeline. If the reproduction number is less than 1, the disease won’t spread anymore.
But the analysts cautioned the public that it's still within the margin of error and the reproduction number might be greater than 1 once late reports come in.
The cities of Mandaluyong and Malabon showed spikes in COVID-19 infections by 10 percent, although Malabon is still the LGU with the lowest attack rate at 1.5 percent per thousand, the OCTA group said, continuing to be a low risk area.
The researchers said that the surge in the NCR's reproduction number over the last weeks "is the highest for the last two months" but added that it was not surprising.
"The situation in the NCR is still very manageable at this time," the analysts said, but added that the current positive trends in Metro Manila and in the Philippines are very delicate, especially due to the upcoming holidays when people are expected to gather and risk themselves to COVID-19 transmission.
The OCTA group — composed of professors from the University of the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas, and Providence College in the United States — labeled Davao Del Sur, Benguet, Isabela, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Leyte and Bataan as "provinces of concern."
Quezon City; Pateros; Muntinlupa; Tuguegarao, Cagayan; San Pablo, Laguna; La Trinidad, Benguet; Balanga, Bataan were also marked as "LGUs of concern".
The analysts cited community transmission or local transmisson as the reason behind the spikes in new cases in the affected areas, exacerbated by the recent rise of movement of people in and out of provinces and LGUs after the national government loosened community quarantine protocols in most places.
"Furthermore, the deteriorating compliance with the minimum health standard by some citizens due to pandemic fatigue and/or the failure of LGUs to monitor and enforce GCQ (general community quarantine) regulations have also contributed to spikes, especially in Metropolitan areas," the OCTA group said.
"In some places, the situation is further exacerbated by the continuing post-typhoon effects (including delays in test reports due to the temporary closing of test centers) in such areas as Isabela and Cagayan province," they said.
The researchers said they are expecting a further rise in new COVID infections in the next few weeks due to the recent relaxation of anti-coronavirus protocols and the upcoming holidays, especially in crowded LGUs in Metro Manila.
"This is expected based on the experience of countries such as the US and Canada that have recently celebrated Thanksgiving. In both cases, the holiday celebrations led to significant spikes in COVID-19 cases. We can learn from their experience, and we can do better at mitigating a surge," they said.
The group disagreed with other experts' belief that the post-holiday surge of coronavirus infections in the country is inevitable.
"We believe that there is still much that can be done by the government, the private sector, and by civil society in the next fortnight to prevent an uncontrolled post-holiday surge in Covid-19 cases in the New Year," they said.
"We believe this is achievable if all of us work together to prevent significant relaxation of restrictions and behavior over the holiday season. In our view, a substantial relaxation of restrictions and behavior during this season may result in exponential increases in transmission and prevalence, potentially leading to an uncontrolled post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases in the New Year," they added.
The group urged the public to continue following minimum health standards set by the health department to avoid contracting COVID-19, such as staying at home as much as possible, wearing of face mask and face shields, observing physical distancing, and proper hygiene.
"We also, continue to appeal to our citizens to avoid not just crowded and enclosed areas but also to refrain from joining or organizing social gatherings this Christmas season," they said, citing the surge of COVID infections in the US and Europe, which has been blamed on social gatherings among households.
The group advised government and the LGUs to restrict just up to 10 people every gathering in Metro Manila, and dissuade office parties and other social events during the holidays.
"Family gatherings like bubbles should be limited to the immediate family, and gatherings should also be limited in size. If larger gatherings have to happen, they should be celebrated outside (in open-air/well- ventilated venues) to mitigate transmissions," they said.
The OCTA analysts called on government and the LGUs, as well as the private sector, to further intensify testing, contact tracing and isolation efforts to arrest the spread of the disease in their jurisdictions, as well as continuing the implementation of health protocols to combat the spread of the deadly disease.
As of posting, the Philippines has confirmed a total of 442,785 COVID-19 cases, of whom 408,790 have recovered and 8,670 others died.
THE OCTA group earlier estimated the country will breach the 500,000 mark by the end of the year.
The health department earlier said they are preparing for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Health Sec. Francisco Duque III assured that they will create a contingency plan that will enable health authorities and other officials to respond if a "post-holiday season surge" in COVID-19 infections occurs in the Philippines.
The country may start the rollout of its own COVID-19 vaccination program by March next year.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 67.6 million people have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard. Of those, 1.5 million have died and almost 43.6 million have recovered.
More than 22.5 million people around the world are currently infected with COVID-19, the tally shows.