TACLOBAN, Philippines – Health officials in Eastern Visayas warned on Friday, January 21 , that more towns and cities in the region may be placed under Alert Level 4 as COVID-19 patients continued to fill up hospitals.
In an online briefing, DOH chief regional epidemiologist Marc Steven Capungco said Biliran had the highest bed utilization rate at 92.68%, followed by Ormoc City (88.18%), Samar (86%), Tacloban City (82.24%), Northern Samar (73.53%), Leyte (67.51%), Southern Leyte (45.08%), and Eastern Samar (34.95%).
The region’s total healthcare utilization is at 70.82%, placing it under “high-risk classification,” Capungcol said.
The press briefing followed the announcement of the Intern-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) please Northern Samar under Alert Level 4.
Escalations of alert levels issued by the government’s pandemic task force are prompted by the growth in case numbers and increasing healthcare utilization rate in an area.
It was not clear why the IATF chose Northern Samar when other provinces and cities have higher hospital utilization rates.
“If the bed utilization rate in the coming weeks or days is still high in Samar, Biliran, Tacloban City, and Ormoc City, then most likely their [alert levels] will be escalated,” Capungol said in a mix of English and Waray.
The DOH official stressed that there are only a few severe cases in the region. The hospitals have been admitting persons with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases.
“Even if they are mild or asymptomatic, this overwhelms the healthcare system if they are admitted in our hospitals, which are supposedly reserved for the severe and critical cases,” he said.
Eastern Visayas logged 879 new COVID-19 cases on January 20, the highest number of single-day cases so far, according to the DOH.
The regional health office said that the previous record stood at 712 new cases on June 20, 2021.
“For now, despite the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, we still can’t say that it’s because of the Omicron variant or other variants of concern. We are still waiting for the results of the samples sent to the Philippine Genome Center,” Capungcol said in Filipino.
“We may see an increase in COVID-19 cases in the upcoming days if we do not follow the guidelines set by the Department of Health,” he added.
Capungcol earlier attributed the surge of COVID-19 cases to the relaxation of health protocols and travel requirements, as well as superspreader events during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The region also recorded on Friday, January 21, its highest positivity rate at 71%, with 668 confirmed cases of 938 individuals tested. Currently, Eastern Visayas’ total number of COVID-19 cases is at 57,207, with total recoveries at 52,584 (91.92%) and total deaths at 635 (1.11%).
Brynch Bonachita and Lance Lim are Visayas-based journalists and awardees of the Aries Rufo Professional Journalism Fellowship.