Zambo Norte pulmonologist says virus statistics may be deceiving

Gualberto Laput
Zambo Norte pulmonologist says virus statistics may be deceiving
Dr Philip Limsi says the provincial government must not be complacent because there was still no case of COVID-19 in Zamboanga del Norte

DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines – As the provincial government and other local health units kept on reassuring the public that Zamboanga del Norte was still free of the novel coronavirus, one of the province’s only two adult pulmonologists appealed to stop focusing on statistics and instead consider the virus to be already here.

“Stop asking if we have positive of negative infections. Let’s think that it has already reached our province. I believe it so, and we all should work together to minimize if not stop its spread,” adult pulmonologist Dr. Philip V. Limsi said over a local radio station March 17 and on his Facebook account.

The Zamboanga del Norte Task Force COVID-19 said that the province has 899 persons under monitoring, 17 persons under investigation and 0 confirmed infection as of March 16.

If President Duterte’s order has to be strictly followed, there is still no basis for a lockdown here. But Limsi said that his fellow physicians in the province urged Governor Roberto Y. Uy to be stricter and impose the lockdown now because they believed COVID-19 was already in the province.

Starting midnight March 17, a community quarantine was implemented in the entire province on Uy’s order.

LOCKDOWN. Tight security at the gate of the  Jose Rizal Memorial State University-Main Campus in Dapitan City. Photo by Bert Laput

Limsi said statistics “could be deceiving. We are not seeing the real picture of the problem as the province has no capability of testing for COVID-19. And the swabs we sent to Zamboanga City and Manila have no results yet.”

And getting the results is much more difficult now that there are no flights and other provinces have also imposed lockdowns.

NO CLASSES. An empty Saint Mary's Academy in Dipolog City. Photo by Bert Laput

We are left on our own, what should we do?

Limsi said we should accept that the virus is already within us. “Treat the person next to you as a carrier of COVID-19 and truthfully do what the (Department of Health) DOH is telling us: strictly follow social distancing, do proper hygiene – wash your hands, stop going to crowded places, stay home, use the right face masks.”

The doctor added though that to be infected of the coronavirus was not a “death sentence” because there are plenty of cases of patients recovering from COVID-19.

COVID-19 in the ailment caused by the novel coronavirus.

“But we have to understand that the real problem we are facing is our limited health system once this problem blows up,” he said.

Limsi cited the province’s inadequate number of doctors and nurses, and the lack of facilities. “Our main hospital (ZN Medical Center) has only 9 intensive care units and 9 ICU nurses, and we don’t have spare respirators that can be installed in non-ICU wards.”

“We will collapse easily,” he said, adding that if COVID-19 blows up in the province, infected persons are likely to have acute respiratory distress syndrome and will need respirators ideally in an ICU.

Limsi said that the province can still manage because COVID-19 has not yet proliferated, but health workers are already under stress. 

There are hospitals and nurses assigned in checkpoints that have no facemasks and alcohol. And there are also hard-headed people, who refuse medical attention.

In Dapitan City, there was a seafarer who went on rest and recreation in Italy and the Netherlands before returning home. Health workers complained that the said seafarer refused to undergo self-quarantine and recklessly roamed the city and nearby Dipolog as well.

Last March 16, the seafarer reportedly had to be confined at a hospital in Dipolog after showing respiratory disease symptoms.

“We cannot afford to have this kind of mentality. We have to be one team. We have to work together. Don’t lie about your medical history and do what health workers tell you to do,” Limsi appealed to the public.

He said there are diseases that have higher mortality rates, but COVID-19 is a problem because we have not fully understood it. He says the as days go by, COVID-19 also displays different characteristics.

“Before the World Health Organization said COVID-19 was not airborne. Now they are saying it is,” Limsi said, “it’s full of surprises, and that’s really a problem.” –

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