An independent group of researchers on Wednesday urged the government to send health workers and equipment to Mindanao, which is fighting a surge in COVID-19 cases that they say could last a month.
OCTA Research fellow Guido David said areas reporting an increase in infections include Davao City, South Cotabato, General Santos City, and Cotabato City.
“This is very concerning because some local government units in Mindanao have high hospital utilization rate, hospital occupancy, and ICU occupancy,” David said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In the same briefing, OCTA's Ranjit Rye said hospitals will bog down if the surge is significant.
Based on the Philippines' previous experiences, a COVID-19 surge may last for a month, "even with heightened restrictions," said Rye, a professor at the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics.
“Our appeal to the national government is to let us deploy people, equipment, and support to these areas,” Rye said.
OCTA said cases in Koronadal nearly doubled, while those in Davao and Cotabato rose 54 percent and 62 percent, respectively.
David said it took around two months to contain the previous case spikes in Metro Manila and Cebu City.
“A surge in a locality usually lasts a month but sometimes it could take up to two months even with heightened restrictions,” David said.
David on Tuesday said Davao City has surpassed Quezon City in having the highest average number of daily COVID-19 cases.
The Department of Health (DOH), on the other hand, denied that Davao City was considered the new epicenter of COVID-19 in the Philippines.
"Davao City is not an epicenter," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a statement.
"We discourage the use of the term 'epicenter' in describing the rise of cases in an area," she said.
Epidemic epicenters are "meant to connote the area as a hotspot for the infection but may be interpreted by some to refer to an area as the source of the infection,” Vergeire said.
"Using the term 'epicenter' detracts from other surrounding areas, which may be equally or more affected by COVID-19," she said.
Malacañang said it was "unfair" to compare the COVID-19 situation in President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown and Quezon City.
The biggest COVID-19 referral center in Mindanao will be increasing its bed capacity for coronavirus cases as it reached 92 percent utilization rate, the DOH in the Davao region said on Wednesday.
The Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City will increase its COVID-19 bed capacity to 600 from 408, said DOH-Davao regional director Dr. Annabelle Yumang.
Another hospital, the Davao Regional Medical Center in Tagum City, will also raise the number of its virus beds to 288 from 188, she added.
Yumang said Davao City's health care utilization rate is considered a "moderate risk" at 65.6 percent, while region-wide it was "low risk" at 57.7 percent.
She said they also augmented the number of nurses in private hospitals.
Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, had 2,683 active cases as of Tuesday, Yumang said.
Yumang said the region's "aggressive" COVID-19 testing and mass gatherings might have caused the increase in virus cases.
Meanwhile, the DOH said Calabarzon’s cases are trending down despite its lead in the number of daily average cases nationwide.
Dr. Paula Paz Sydiongco, head of DOH-Center for Health Development in Calabarzon, the region recorded 821 new infections on Tuesday, taking its total virus cases to 173,118.
“Based on the cases we recorded on June 8, the trend is declining but the public must continue to observe minimum health standards,” Sydiongco said in Filipino in an interview with ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
Cavite has seen a high number of new infections because of intensified contact tracing, with 15 persons being traced per virus patient and its governor setting up a quota for RT-PCR laboratories, said Sydiongco.
Provincial health director Dr. Rene Bagamasbad said Laguna's rise in COVID-19 cases is due to the mobility of people, most of whom work in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“When they return here, they're already sick and this results in clustering in households,” he said.