MANILA— Angelika Ortega caught COVID-19 at the height of crucial recitations for law school in late August, just as the country was seeing a surge of virus infections driven by the more virulent Delta variant.
Ortega, a government legal researcher who physically reported in the office, said she was nervous after finding out she was a carrier of the virus, and admitted that she had difficulty telling her close contacts about the development.
"Sa close friends ko na close contacts ko and sa landlord ko that time ako kinabahan mag-break ng news kasi I placed them in peril. I felt like kasalanan ko if ever they contracted COVID," the 22-year-old recalled in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
(During that time, I was worried to break the news to my close contacts and my landlord because I placed them in peril. I felt that it's my fault if ever they get infected with COVID-19.)
She had moderate COVID-19 symptoms which included colds, loss of smell and taste, high fever, sore throat, and weakening of the body.
While she lives alone in her apartment, Ortega said she was worried of spreading COVID-19 in their place in Manila, which was why she agreed to go to a quarantine facility for 10 days.
After her ordeal, Ortega's employers urged her to work remotely for the time being.
"Pina-work from home na ako after that... During quarantine nagwo-work na rin... ako noon. Sobrang natakot na ako that time (when I returned) and nag-isolate na ako sa unit for 3 days before I allowed na makipagkita sa mga friends ko," she said.
(I was asked to work from home after that. I was still working during the time I was in quarantine. I was so scared after I was in quarantine and I still isolated in my unit for 3 days)
Ortega is just one of the thousands of Filipinos who have recuperated from COVID-19, as the country logged more people infected with the virus.
On Tuesday alone, the Department of Health (DOH) logged the 5th highest number of newly recovered patients at 39,980 — also the highest since April 18, according to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.
Meanwhile, the DOH said it is important that a person finishing quarantine be assessed by a local health official so they could get a certification to report to their work places or return to their homes safely.
"Dati pa po ito nating protocol, nasa polisiya natin 'yan na kailangan kapag nakapagkumpleto na po kayo ng inyong isolation, you should be assessed," Vergeire explained in a public briefing on Sept. 18.
(This is our protocol ever since. This is our policy when a person completes isolation, you should be assessed.)
"So kailangan talaga ma-assess para masigurado po na nakatapos sila ng kanilang isolation at talagang wala na silang sintomas bago po silang makahalubilo po ulit sa komunidad," she added.
(They should be assessed after their isolation so it could be assured that they no longer have symptoms before they return to their communities.)
Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontegene Solante said a person experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms is no longer infectious after 10 to 14 days.
A severe to critical COVID-19 patient, or those who got hospitalized, however, will take 3 weeks or until 24 days before they are no longer infectious, according to Solante.
But it is important for people who recovered from moderate to critical COVID-19 to rest in their homes and follow-up closely with their physicians amid the possibility of longer symptoms or "post COVID syndrome," he said.
"Post COVID syndrome ay syndrome na may mga sintomas kagaya ng hinahapo, walang ganang kumain, inuubo, and it will take time for them to really recover," Solante told ABS-CBN News.
(A post COVID syndrome means that a person who had COVID still has lingering symptoms such as cough, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath)
People who experience COVID-19 symptoms for more than 28 days after its onset are considered long haulers of the virus, Solante added, but he clarified that they are no longer infectious after 3 weeks.
TAlan Bautista, a 28-year-old businessman, was among those who had post-COVID syndrome in late July, with symptoms lingering to over 6 weeks.
Bautista, who was unvaccinated at the time, said he went into home quarantine with his family after 2 of his siblings also tested positive for the virus.
He said he struggled during his bout with COVID-19, as he was also asthmatic. He experienced mild to moderate symptoms, but he still had cough and shortness of breath over a month after testing positive for the virus.
"Ako lang at the time ang hindi pa vaccinated... The 3 of us, may sarili naman kaming kuwarto kaya madali lang ang home isolation for us," he said, noting that he might have infected his siblings.
(I was the only one unvaccinated. The 3 of us have our own rooms so home isolation was easy for us)
Bautista said he was able to interact with his family members 2 weeks into his home quarantine.
"Wala akong transition na I needed to make kasi nasa bahay pa rin... I took it slow kasi nung natapos 'yung [quarantine] ko, magla-lockdown pa lang ulit. That was hard for me... Nakakalabas naman na ako pero sa mga bahay na lang ng mga friends ko."
(I did not need to do any transition because I was stuck at home. I only took it slow because there was another lockdown. I was able to go out of my home but only to visit friends.)
According to the World Health Organization and some experts, "long COVID" is still among the strangest aspects of the pandemic.
Vergeire said the DOH has yet to release any data on those who experienced long COVID in the Philippines as it is a continuing development.
Solante, meanwhile, emphasized that those suffering from post-COVID syndrome is not yet out of the woods, as some symptoms could progress, most especially among patients who have comorbidities.
"Unang-una titingnan ang puso kung stable ba, wala bang damage in terms of function. Titingnan din ang lungs kung medyo okay ba in terms of oxygenation, at tsaka 'yung iba pang test para malaman ba kung hindi magiging kumplikado later on na nag-post COVID, puwedeng ibalik doon sa ospital," he said.
(We have to look at the heart if it is stable, does it have any damage in terms of function. We also have to look into the lungs if the oxygenation is okay. Other tests will also look into other post COVID symptoms, so we determine if they need to go back to hospital.)
The expert also noted that those fully vaccinated from the disease have less chances of getting post-COVID syndrome.
Here's what you should do during and after COVID-19 quarantine, according to experts, the DOH, and those who experienced it first hand:
- People who recovered from COVID-19 could still catch the virus, so it is important that they still adhere to minimum public health standards when they go back to their communities.
- As much as possible, people who tested positive for the virus should go to isolation facilities set up by their local government to prevent further COVID-19 transmission.
- Local health officials should assess a person finishing quarantine or isolation to make sure that they no longer have symptoms when they return to their homes and workplaces.
- Patients who had mild symptoms of COVID-19 could return to their work places and their homes without risk if their doctors or health assessors say they had already recovered.
- Upon return home, recovered patients should personally sanitize all the things they brought from the quarantine facility.
- They should also personally wash all clothes they wore at the facility.
- The DOH says a patient does not need to get a repeat RT-PCR test to determine if they have recovered from COVID-19: "Symptom-based strategy shall be used to determine recovery or return-to-work for symptomatic patients."
- If a patient experiences COVID-19 symptoms for weeks, Solante says they should have themselves checked by a doctor to determine possible complications and they could take medications they need.
- It is important for a recovered patient to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- COVID-19 patients who just got out of hospitals should rest in their homes and should be closely monitored by a doctor
Solante reiterated the importance of preventing further COVID-19 transmission in homes and workplaces, and for people who contracted the virus to go to temporary treatment and monitoring facilities as much as possible amid the threat of the Delta variant.
"Hindi puwedeng mag-isolate ka sa bahay kasi hindi mo alam kung sino 'yung puwede mong mahawahan," he said.
(You cannot isolate in your homes because you don't know who you will infect)
"Kaya to be safe, especially with the Delta variant na nagpapataas ng hawahan, dapat 'pag may sintomas magpa-test and then kapag nag-positive, call the barangay so they would also be arranging them for the isolation sa mga treatment facilities."
(Once a person experiences symptoms of COVID-19, then he should be tested immediately. Once they test positive, they should call their barangay so they could be put in treatment facilities.)