MANILA - The Department of Health has sought the help of local officials in preventing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the holiday season.
DOH Spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire called on local officials to remind their constituents to come up with alternative means of celebrating Christmas and New Year, and to observe minimum public health standards.
She stressed that the interzonal movement of people to celebrate the holidays with family and friends can cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Interzonal movement is when people cross areas under different community quarantine classifications.
“Sa darating po na holiday season, humihingi po kami ng tulong sa inyo. We are looking at a possible surge come January kung hindi po natin mako-control ang activities ng mga kababayan natin this holiday season,” Vergeire told members of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines Thursday in a virtual forum.
“Though bumababa na po ang mga kaso natin sa ating bansa, mayroon pa rin tayong mga piling lugar sa ating country where we are seeing the increase in the number of cases again. We are also seeing in certain areas of the country na ‘yung kanilang health system capacity, ‘yung critical care utilization like for hospital wards, ICUs, ay tumataas na po ulit.
"So sana po makatulong po namin kayo lahat para ma-control po natin ulit,” she said.
The DOH discouraged the use of rapid tests in screening people who will cross zones.
“Ang iniisip kasi namin, at least here in our LGU, during this holiday season is to make it available to our constituents in case they want to get tested or they have umuuwing kamag-anak for the holidays, they can voluntarily test. Are you suggesting it’s a futile exercise?” ULAP National President Gov. Dakila Cua asked.
“Kapag ginamit natin siya, unang-una, for those without symptoms and without exposure, the sensitivity is really low... Dito lalabas ‘yung mga false negative na resulta,” Vergeire responded.
“Nakakatakot, because it might give this confidence sa ating mga kababayan… ‘Pag tinest ako, negative ako, I can do anything I want,” she added.
The DOH is scheduled to present to the IATF next week its post-holiday COVID-19 projections.
“We are now doing the projections for a possible surge come January. Because of these holiday activities we are currently doing and we are seeing really, and we have been observing na talagang nakikita natin na talagang nagkukumpulan na ulit ang tao, nakakalimutan ang minimum public health standards,” Vergeire said.
The Philippine General Hospital, meanwhile, is bracing for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases after the holidays.
“We should always be all ready for a COVID surge. We have still reserved almost 100 beds for a possible surge anytime it happens. At least we don’t have to reshuffle patients like we did at the start of the pandemic,” PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi said.
“Because of the limited bed capacity, we have to be more creative in our referral system with different hospitals so that we are able to serve those that can be truly served by our institutions and allow other facilities to take in those that probably can be served better in their facilities,” he added.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque III earlier said the DOH 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.
Duque said the DOH will implement its Department Circular 2020-0355, or the Reiteration of the Minimum Public Health Standards for COVID-19 Mitigation during the holidays, to remind Filipinos to continue observing anti-coronavirus policies, like physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields, and frequent handwashing.
Under the circular, holiday activities such as caroling, shopping in crowded markets and shopping centers, indoor gathering with large crowds, riding in stuffed public transportation vehicles, and others that involve physical contact are discouraged.