Cebu doctors urge local governments ‘not to downplay virus’

Ryan Macasero
Cebu doctors urge local governments ‘not to downplay virus’
The statement comes amid a surge of new cases in Cebu City and the reimposition of a lockdown

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Cebu Medical Society (CMS), a component organization of the Philippine Medical Organization, urged local government officials not to downplay the virus amid a surge in new cases in Cebu City.

“We gently recommend to our public officials and fellow Cebuanos not to downplay the veracity of this contagion,” CMS said in its statement on Wednesday, June 17. 

Current data from the Department of Health (DOH) examined by the group show that the reproduction number (R) of the province, including Cebu City, is at about 2 (1.96), which means it continues to be a “high-risk” area where the disease continues to spread significantly. (READ: ‘Cause for concern’: Experts project 11,000 coronavirus cases in Cebu by June 30)

Cebu City is currently the only local government unit in the country under lockdown, or enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

CMS, with a province-wide membership of around 3,000 doctors, asked the local governments and health departments to be transparent with its data. “We also clamor for real-time accuracy and transparency of data reporting to the public,” the group added.

There was a period from May 21 to 28 where no data was released by the regional health office. (READ: Data cleanup, backlogged cases cause delay in DOH’s coronavirus updates)

When the delayed reports were sent, the format was totally changed, reflecting what looked like an attempt to downplay the coronavirus threat. They now included comparisons of COVID-19 death toll with other diseases. If a COVID-19-positive patient with a comorbidity died, the pre-existing condition, like lung failure or cardiac arrest, would be highlighted as the cause of death instead of complications from coronavirus.

Both the Department of Health 7 and the provincial government of Cebu have been comparing coronavirus infections to other diseases, like dengue and tuberculosis. When the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus is juxtaposed with those of these illnesses, COVID-19 numbers would naturally look minimal. 

“We acknowledge the existence of other infectious diseases, but in our lifetime it is only COVID-19 that has wreaked havoc and brought the entire world to its knees and divested us of a sense of normalcy,” the Cebu doctors said.

The Cebu City Health Department, which is independent of DOH-7, used to release its data with the number of confirmed cases daily with the number of total cases per barangay up top. 

June 17,2020
64 recovered or lab negative:
Pardo-2
San Roque-1
BJMP-…

Posted by CCHD- Cebu City Health Department on Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Starting late May, the format changed, where recoveries are highlighted on top of the release, and only new cases per barangay are published on its official Facebook page. They stopped publishing the total case count per barangay.

“From ground zero we see with our very own eyes the burden and impact of this disease. We should not be complacent and put our guards down because we as a comunity are the most vulnerable now,” the medical organization said. 

“Hospitals are overhwelmed and nurses are getting sick and burnt out,” they added. “Every time we don our personal protective quipment, we sacrifice our own lives. We need everyone to help us survive this ordeal. We too are humans and we beseech that you value our lives too.”

Data from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) showed the following:

  • Hospitals are at full capacity for COVID-19, but officials said they are doing something about it by expanding the capacity of isolation beds.
  • 45% of 60 mechanical ventilators are in use in Cebu City hospitals.
  • All intensive care unit beds, a total of 27, are in use.
  • 90% of the 399 isolation beds are occupied.
  • 93% of the 133 ward beds in hospitals are being used.

Still, the Cebu City government believes the situation is manageable, and would appeal with the IATF to keep it under the less-restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ).

“Data show Cebu City should be under GCQ,” Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon, June 17.

“The report on critical utilization rate, which showed a high percentage of hospital bed occupancy, also did not include isolation facilities established and equipped by the city in cooperation with the private sector,” the mayor pointed out.

He pointed to the barangay isolation centers, which would accommodate asymptomatic and pre-sypmtomatic patients as a sign that Cebu is prepared.

In another statement, the Department of Health Central Visayas said it was working on increasing capacity in Cebu City hospitals to accommodate more mild and critical cases.

As of Wednesday evening, Cebu City had a total of 4,014 cases with a total of 48 deaths and 1,988 recoveries.

Nationwide there were a total of 27,238 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines, with 457 new cases reported. – Rappler.com

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.