2 get-togethers traced as source of COVID-19 surge in Subic firm

While social activities are important even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still not the time to party especially when minimum health requirements will not be observed.

This was a lesson some employees of a business process outsourcing (BPO) company here recently learned the hard way after attending parties that were suspected of being super-spreading events, said Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma.

“As of latest count, 25 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 infection out of 65 workers who had to be placed on quarantine,” Eisma said Wednesday, December 2.

“Our health experts here have determined that were it not for parties that workers attended, all these hassles of quarantine and work stoppage would not have happened,” she added.

Dr Solomon Jacalne, head of the SBMA Public Health & Safety Department, said the surge in COVID-19 cases at the company was traced to two parties attended by employees last November 14, a Saturday. The first was a party at Baloy, a popular beach area in Olongapo City, while the second was a pool party held in San Marcelino, Zambales.

Jacalne said contact tracing indicated that the employees who tested positive of COVID-19 either attended the parties or were exposed to co-workers who went to the said gatherings.

But the doctor added that it was the disregard of health protocols by the employees that triggered spread of the virus.

In particular, Jacalne referred to the using of face masks and maintaining physical distance.

“Some were not honest with their health declaration,” he noted. “They didn’t say they were sick and they reported for work just the same because of the company’s no-work-no-pay policy.”

Jacalne said the first case was recorded on November 16, but the patient’s two identified close contacts tested negative. The next two positive cases surfaced on November 17 — a couple who declared as close contacts only those with whom they shared the shuttle bus.

“Then there came to be a sudden spike in the following days, from November 19 to 25. And this was the only time when the employees admitted about the beach and pool parties—when there were already 16 positive cases,” Jacalne said.

After the parties were revealed, further investigation by tracers widened the circle of close contacts to a total of 65—all employees of the BPO firm. Out of these, 25 so far have tested positive of the virus.

Jacalne added that no other positive case was recorded at the firm in the last 7 days and that all the suspected infections were now under quarantine in their respective areas in Zambales, Olongapo City, and Bataan. They were waiting for schedule to take a RT-PCR test.

Following this development, Eisma ordered further investigation to determine additional safety measures to be imposed at the workplace.

Company officials said they have already installed barriers between work stations as early as August and have now positioned their call agents one workstation apart.

It was also learned that with 500 call center agents in its employ, the company planned to expand into a bigger area to comply with Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04-A, which provided for supplemental guidelines from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on workplace prevention and control of Covid-19.

Eisma said the SBMA would look into the possibility of leasing out a portion of a nearby building for the expansion area needed by the firm.

Eisma also urged companies in the Subic Freeport to scrap the traditional company Christmas party this year to avoid the risk of virus transmission.

"Let us stay safe. We can make Christmas more meaningful, more special and more rewarding by celebrating it with our family and household members this year," Eisma added. – Rappler.com