The Department of Health on Monday said there are now 462 confirmed cases for COVID-19 with 82 new cases, 33 deaths, and 18 recoveries.
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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, however, admitted the numbers could be double
that because not all cases could be detected due to the limited testing capacity of the country’s laboratories.
As of Sunday, the DOH has tested at least 1,513 patients, of which 380 were positive for the novel coronavirus and 662 negative. The results of 471 patients were still pending.
“With the increasing... testing capacity, we will know the real trend of transmission in the Philippines,” Duque said.
Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said with the continuous testing, the DOH is expecting a further rise in the number of positive cases.
"We’re now catching up with our backlogs. This is because we also have extended the capacity of other laboratories," she said.
Before, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City was the only facility which had the capacity to test patients for COVID-19. Test results were released within 24 to 48 hours.
On Friday, the DOH designated four other laboratories for testing COVID-19. They are San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila; Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
Vergeire said the DOH will also put up testing centers in Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City and Bicol Public Health Laboratory in Legazpi City.
Vergeire said the DOH is now able to conduct almost 1,000 tests for COVID-19 every day after several sub-national laboratories became operational.
Duque also said at least seven laboratories now have the capacity to conduct testing. He said testing kits have been pouring in from different countries such as China, South Korea, and Singapore amid a global shortage.
With only 98 personal protective equipment (PPE) suits and isolation gowns, the Lung Center of the Philippines called for donations of after it was designated by the government as among the country’s dedicated COVID-19 hospitals.
Dr. Antonio Ramos, head of the hospital’s administrative services division, warned that at the end of the day they will have nothing and their doctors and other health workers would be endangered.
Besides PPE suits, he said the Lung Center of the Philippines also needs isolation gowns. For the suits, he said Filipino doctors would fit in size medium to large suits.
Ramos said those who can deliver the suits to the hospital can simply drop them off at their donation desk by the entrance.
He also said they are now trying to set up a private fund so they can buy from private suppliers even if the prices have gone up to P3,000 per suit from just P500 before the COVID-19 became a pandemic.
“We do not have any choice because we are talking about the lives of our doctors,” he said.
“A lot of doctors have already been admitted (to hospitals). Some have already died,” he added.
Ramos noted that a sick doctor has a big impact, especially since each one of them takes care of several patients.
The problem, Ramos said, is that distributors authorized to sell to the government have run out of PPEs. He said the hospital uses about 80 to 100 suits a day as it handles 40 patients.
Ramos said an initial supply of 1,000 suits would keep them safe. "We can make do with 1,000 initially because we know there are other hospitals that need it,” he said.
He said PPE suits are full-body suits used by medical personnel when treating patients with infectious diseases. Only the face, hands and feet are exposed when they wear the suits.
“Matched with goggles, N95 masks and gloves, that makes us relatively safe,” he said.
However, the hospital is also planning to expand services with the influx of COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, 530 medical staff of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital are currently under quarantine after being exposed to patients being treated for COVID-19.
In a statement issued to the Varsitarian, UST’s official campus paper, the UST Hospital management team said several consultants, fellows, residents, nurses, and aides are among those who are under quarantine.
“The recent days were quite challenging and unprecedented. We had to act on the rapid upsurge of COVID-related cases in our hospital, and the sudden reduction of our health care workforce because of mandatory quarantine of exposed staff,” the statement read.
The UST Hospital management said it will regulate admissions and stop elective procedures in selected units temporarily to address the issue of the hospital’s “depleted workforce.”
Hospital staff and trainees will also go on alternating skeletal duty schedules to limit exposure risks.
The Clinical Division Medical Ward has been designated as the COVID Unit for patients classified as COVID-positive, or patients under investigation.
The hospital also said the enhanced community quarantined further depleted its workforce, and there was a shortage of personalprotective equipment.
On March 17, UST Hospital discharged one patient who tested positive for COVID-19 based on the discharge criteria set by the Department of Health.
Quezon City reported Monday it had 65 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Dr. Esperanza Arias, city health officer, said the figure was released by the Department of Health.
Karl Michael Marasigan, the city's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief, said they were preparing the Quezon Memorial Circle basketball court as a temporary quarantine area.
Dr. Rolly Cruz, the city's epidemiologist, said the decision of various Metro Manila hospitals to send home three Quezon City residents experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 was based on protocols set by the Department of Health.
Earlier, reports indicated the three were sent home after they were tested positive for the virus.
Cruz said the DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0108 issued on March 11 said “persons under investigation and positive COVID-19 patients who exhibit mild symptoms with no co-morbidities and are non-elderly are advised to be sent home for strict self-isolation and close monitoring by local health authorities.”
Mayor Joy Belmonte raised concern after the three residents were confirmed positive for COVID-19.
“Keeping them home is alarming because of the conditions in which they live and the ease with which they can transmit the disease,” she said.
Cruz said the city government started the implementation of an extreme enhanced community quarantine on residences of positive patients sent home , where they will be strictly monitored by uniformed personnel and provided assistance to ensure their isolation.
He said they have identified facilities where COVID-19 patients who do not have the capacity to undergo self-quarantine can go.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday said the number of overseas Filpinos infected with COVID-19 has increased to 153.
The DFA figures showed that 66 are currently undergoing treatment, 86 who have either recovered or been discharged from the hospital, and one death.
The DFA report said there are 23 countries or regions with Filipino COVID-19 cases.
The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong announced that three more Filipinos have been infected with COVID-19, bringing to five the total number of infected Filipinos there.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, said their tests for COVID-19 were not administered by the Department of Health after politicians were called out for having themselves tested despite the scarcity of testing kits.
Sotto and Tolentino, who both tested negative, said they opted to undergo testing after they had some of the symptoms following exposure to a COVID-19-positive person at a Senate hearing.
They were also exposed to one of their colleagues, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who tested positive.
In his post on social media, Sotto said his test was done with the help of a friend from a private sector company that had a testing kit. He said this is not yet accredited by the Department of Health or the Food and Drug Administration.
Sotto admitted that its accuracy has not been certified yet. He said it is a very simple testing kit with instant results.
"This testing kit is different from what the DOH is using now," he said.
Tolentino apologized for having himself tested for COVID-19, but maintained that he had developed symptoms.
"My colds and dry cough persisted during my self-quarantine, thus I took a test, after my [self-prescribed] cough medication appeared insufficient after four days," he said.
“I apologize if I undertook the same as I was likewise exposed to the persons my colleagues got in contact with during our hearings,” he said.
In an earlier Facebook post that has since been deleted, Tolentino announced that he tested negative for COVID-19.
“If I came out positive, I will also post so the people who came near me would know the result whether positive or negative. My apologies to those offended,” Tolentino said.
A number of senators underwent self-quarantine earlier this month upon learning that a resource person who attended a Senate hearing had tested positive for COVID-19.
Zubiri announced last week that his results also came back positive.
Twitter users protested politicans who tested for COVID-19 despite the limited number of test kits under the hastag #NoToVIPGTesting.
They bewailed the disregard of the Department of Health’s triage algorithm for the disease.
Health Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire, however, rejected suggestions that others were being neglected as politicians were afforded preferential treatment in testing.
She said most of those tested qualified for the test because of exposure to a COVID-19 patient or a history of travel to an infected country.
“So they were tested. The met the criteria and it was justifiable,” she said.
Other top officials needed to be tested because of national security reasons, Vergeire added.
“We need to preserve specific, high people in government,” she said.
“I’m not saying everybody.”
Also on Monday, the Bureau of Customs said it has organized a one-stop-shop at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to facilitate the release of imported personal protective equipment (PPE) and other items needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Customs collection district in NAIA under the supervision of Collector Carmelita Talusan has been in the forefront expediting releases of all COVID-19 related items such as face masks and PPEs.
As a general rule, importers of all products are required to obtain appropriate marketing authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the form of either a Certificate of Product Notification or Certificate of Product Registration, depending on the health risk of their products prior to customs release.
The FDA has coordinated with the bureau to allow foreign donations to get through without the usual clearances.
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