The Department of Health Bicol Center for Health Development (DOH Bicol CHD) reports that COVID-19 cases in the region have been increasing since March this year. There is now an average of 200 new cases being recorded daily. The positivity rate of laboratory tests rose to 23% as of June 13, 2021 from the previously reported 9% recorded on April 4, 2021.

Despite this, Bicol remains at moderate risk level equivalent to General Community Quarantine (GCQ). While the risk level of the region remains unchanged, the DOH has classified certain areas in the region as high-risk, including the cities of Naga and Legazpi. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has already placed Naga City under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ).

Meanwhile, the Local Government Units (LGUs) in Bicol region have likewise determined their quarantine classification based on the risk assessment of DOH and in accordance with the IATF-EID’s guidelines. In Albay, Governor Al Francis Bichara has extended the GCQ status of the province, covering all cities and municipalities with the exception of Jovellar and Rapu-Rapu. Also, in Camarines Sur, Governor Miguel Villafuerte has placed Iriga City and 31 municipalities in the province under General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) has concurred with these LGU declarations for the period ending June 30, 2021. To determine the risk level of an area, a two-week risk assessment is done covering the Average Daily Attack Rate (ADAR), the Two-Week Growth Rate (TWGR), and the Health Care Utilization Rate (HCUR). The risk assessment will serve as the basis for the Bicol CHD in recommending to the Local Chief Executive (LCE) the quarantine classification status of their area.The rise in COVID-19 cases is attributed to a number of factors including lapses in the implementation of the minimum public health standards for prevention and “COVID intervention fatigue,” and lapses in contact tracing and in the enforcement of quarantine and isolation protocols. In addition, the delays in the collection of specimen, delays in the submission of the specimen to the laboratories due to incomplete information, and the delay in informing and releasing of individual test results by the local government units (LGUs) are other factors that compound the current situation in the region.The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected the health sector but also the economic sector. Continuous rise in cases affect human and financial resources, facilities and other logistics in the health care sector. In the economic sector, job loss and unemployment continue to rise due to lockdowns. On top of these, the pandemic has taken its toll on the mental well-being of those greatly affected by the crisis.In this light, all stakeholders- the government agencies, LGUs, communities, and individuals must have one goal – that is to prevent the continuous increase of COVID-19 cases in the region.What are we doing and what can each one do? Since the start of the pandemic, the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy has been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

It is still the main strategy that must be followed to curb the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the region.Prevent – One of the reasons for the increase of COVID-19 cases is the laxity in the implementation and adherence to the BIDA Solusyon and minimum public health standards. On the other hand, some are experiencing intervention fatigue in following the health protocols. DOH Bicol highlights that being infected with COVID-19 is more exhausting than following the preventive measures against COVID-19.

Having the virus is not only physically exhausting but also mentally and emotionally exhausting. This is not to mention the financial burden to the individual and his/her family.Prevention is the most important among other interventions. To prevent the continuous increase of COVID-19 cases in the region, all individuals are encouraged to strictly follow the Minimum Public Health Standards and the BIDA Solusyon Plus.

Likewise, LGUs are urged to strictly and seriously implement and monitor compliance to these preventive measures. Detect – All contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case are directed to report to their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs). Contacts are individuals who had an exposure to a COVID-19 confirmed case, as well as those who stayed in the same enclosed area of a COVID-19 confirmed case. Contacts shall be assessed and referred for testing on the 5th day from the last contact with a confirmed case of COVID.

All contacts must be advised to undergo a 14-day quarantine. BHERTs shall identify and trace contacts thoroughly. Contacts who are awaiting test results are considered suspects and should be quarantined separately so that they will not be infected or they will not infect others should the results come back positive. LGUs must have a strict implementation policy on isolation and quarantine protocols.

Testing is part of the Detect on the PDITR Strategy. There are three phases of testing – collection, testing at the laboratory, and release of results. For Phase 1, collection of swab samples for RT-PCR is done by the LGU. All samples should be submitted to the laboratory not more than two days after collection.

This is to ensure the integrity of the sample. Samples that are submitted beyond this prescribed period will be rejected. Hence, the individual from whom the rejected samples were taken will have to be re-swabbed. This will surely cause a delay, discomfort, and inconvenience to the person swabbed. To prevent this, LGUs and health facilities (e.g. hospitals and clinics) are directed to submit their specimens on time with the complete information as specified in the Case Investigation Form (CIF).

Once received at the laboratories, the Phase 2, or the testing of the samples, begins. Test results are available within 17 hours to 48 hours upon receipt of samples. Once available, a line list of positive, negative and invalid results is uploaded in the COVID Documents Repository System (CDRS). The Provincial/City/Municipal/Hospital Epidemiology and Surveillance Units (ESUs) have access to the CDRS.

Individual results are emailed to the ESUs after release of the daily COVID-19 updates. For samples with invalid results, the reporting units are advised to recollect samples for retesting. The submission of samples with incomplete information impedes the testing process, and consequently delays the release of results. To prevent this, it is crucial that the reporting units ensure the validity of samples and the completeness of the required information.Phase 3 is the release of individual results by the LGUs or health facility to those they have swabbed. Individual results emailed by the laboratory to Provincial Epidemiology Surveillance Units (PESU) need to be extracted, individually renamed and arranged by municipality or city.

Manual labeling is done at PESU. Once done, the PESU sends the files to Local Epidemiology and Surveillance Units (LESUs)and the LESUs will disseminate results individually. The facility/LGU that facilitated the swab shall release the results to their patients. The LGUs/facilities are directed to immediately process the results so they can be released immediately.

Isolate – Once a person tests positive for COVID-19, he/she should be isolated immediately. A patient who is asymptomatic or with mild and moderate symptoms shall be isolated at LGU-owned facilities (TTMF, community isolation centers or at an LGU Hospital) or private hospitals. On the other hand, severe and critical cases shall be referred to DOH hospitals or the three (3) COVID-19 referral hospitals which are the Bicol Medical Center (BMC) in Naga City, Bicol Region General Hospital and Geriatric Medical Center (BRGHGMC) in Cabusao, Camarines Sur, and the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital (BRTTH) in Legazpi City.

LGUs are directed to follow the standards prescribed for quarantine and isolation facilities. They must ensure the safety of the patients in these facilities, and make sure that the facilities are clean, livable, and have gender-sensitive comfort rooms.Treat – The patients should be treated depending on their level of severity.

Asymptomatic, mild, and moderate cases should be managed in LGU-owned facilities and private hospitals while the severe and critical cases should be treated at the three COVID-19 referral hospitals.Patients shall be isolated at the LGU or private isolation facilities for the number of days prescribed. For asymptomatic, mild and moderate cases, the patients will be isolated for 14 days at most. For severe or critical, it might take more than 14 days.Reintegration – The last part of the PDITR strategy. Once the patients have recovered, they can now be reintegrated and allowed to go back to their homes.

The necessary support from the family, community and the LGU should be provided. Everyone should ensure that patients will not be discriminated.CALL TO ACTIONDOH Bicol reminds everyone that the fight against COVID-19 is a whole-of-government, whole-of-system, whole-of-society approach. Thus, each has a responsibility to take.

The Local Government Units (LGUs) are directed to level up the implementation of the BIDA Solusyon Plus, provide safe and livable quarantine and isolation facilities, step up contact tracing, submit samples immediately, release individual results as soon as daily COVID-19 updates are posted, and facilitate reintegration of individuals who have recovered to the community. Likewise, they are directed to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination in their respective localities.The LGUs have been vital in the country’s COVID-19 response, and their relentless efforts are greatly appreciated. However, as the health crisis persists, there is an emerging need to further intensify government efforts at the local level.

Individuals are urged to follow the minimum public health standards or the BIDA Solusyon Plus, report for signs and symptoms, follow quarantine/isolation protocols if they are close contacts, refrain from sharing information that cannot be verified, and support COVID-19 patients and frontliners and protect them from discrimination.

This way, you can protect yourself and your family while playing a role in our unified fight against COVID-19.DOH Bicol also calls on other partners to support the COVID-19 and Resbakuna Campaign in any way they can according to their mandate, resources, capacity and expertise. Areas that can be supported are the information campaign on COVID-19 and Resbakuna, combating fake news, and refraining from sharing anecdotal posts and posts with unknown sources.Doctors, nurses, medical and non-medical frontliners are our main partners in the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful to them for their selfless service and utmost dedication to their work, even in such a trying time. In return for their heroism, let us help protect them by doing our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the region. We must work as One Bicol against COVID-19.——————————————-DOH Bicol CHD PRESS RELEASEPR No: 2021-0027