Bukidnon province eased quarantine restrictions just like other areas in Northern Mindanao but a relatively poor COVID-19 vaccination rate prompted Governor Jose Maria Zubiri to apply some pressure on capitol workers reluctant to get jabs.
Zubiri has ordered all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated employees of the provincial government to also undergo mandatory reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests every two weeks at their own expense.
Dr. Vincent Raguro, provindial health chief, said a RT-PCR test in private laboratories cost between P3,500 to P4,000.
Unvaccinated capitol workers see Zubiri’s policy as a move that forces them to do something against their will.
As of November 1, Bukidnon’s public health frontline workers only fully vaccinated 276,442 or 25.87% of their targeted 1,068,778 population, and those waiting for second jabs stood at 335,524, data from the provincial health office showed.
A copy of Zubiri’s Memorandum No. 255-2021, a copy of which was furnished to Rappler on Monday, November 15, made twice-a-month RT-PCR tests for all the capitol employees without proof of full vaccination mandatory.
The memorandum, signed on November 5, was similar to an October directive (Memorandum No. 237-2021) that made RT-PCR tests among unvaccinated workers in Bukidnon’s eight provincial hospitals mandatory and at their own expense.
It was unclear exactly how many capitol employees have remained unvaccinated but officials said that in the eight provincial hospitals, including the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center (BPMC), at least 82 workers were either unvaccinated or partially unvaccinated as of October 27.
Zubiri tasked the provincial legal office to submit to him a list of unvaccinated capitol employees, including those who only received first doses.
Zubiri has appealed to residents to get inoculated so that Bukidnon would attain herd immunity , and lower the COVID-19 mortality rate.
“This is our protective measure against COVID-19. I am calling every Bukidnon resident qualified for COVID-19 vaccination to get it, including all the employees at the capitol and the provincial hospitals,” the governor said.
Bukidnon has been placed under Alert Level 2 from November 15 to 30, which means less strict quarantine measures because of a significant improvement in the province’s public health situation.
The elderly and even minors can now go outdoors regardless of comorbidities or vaccination status.
Lawyer Oliver Owen Garcia, co-chairperson of Bukidnon COVID-19 task force, said fully-vaccinated inbound travelers are now required to show only their vaccination cards and IDs.
But the unvaccinated are required to present certifications that they were found negative for COVID-19 in RT-PCR tests conducted within three days from the time these are presented, he said.
Garcia said unvaccinated minors are not required to present anything as long as they are accompanied by their parents or guardians.
As of Monday, November 15, Bukidnon only logged 63 active cases. A day earlier, the DOH recorded only seven new COVID-19 cases in the province, a far cry from the three-digit number of single-day infections in previous months.
Health officials said of the 478 COVID-19-related deaths in Bukidnon since 2020, 90% were unvaccinated. – Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship