MANILA, Philippines – In a bid to ensure adequate manpower in hospitals amid a worrying COVID-19 surge, the Philippine government has allowed medical facilities to shorten the period for isolation and quarantine of fully vaccinated healthcare workers.
Acting Presidential Spokesman and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles explained the new policy on Thursday, January 6, in a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. (Read the task force resolution here).
Hospitals, he said, “will be authorized to implement shortened quarantine protocols of five days for fully vaccinated health care workers, and, in extreme circumstances, fully vaccinated healthcare workers under isolation in extreme circumstances and weighing the risks and benefits.”
On Friday, January 7, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified that the following are the shortened quarantine and isolation period for fully vaccinated health workers:
- Quarantine – can be completely waived (it’s usually seven days for fully vaccinated)
- Isolation – can be shortened to five days (it’s usually 10 days for fully vaccinated)
Isolation and quarantine or two different things. Quarantine is when a person stays away from others due to exposure to a suspected or probable COVID-19 case. Isolation is when a person stays away from others due to exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case.
“When they are quarantined for a long time, we don’t want a lack of health care workers who will man our hospitals and health care facilities,” said Nograles in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Department of Health is set to release guidelines on the new policy and coordinate with hospitals.
Healthcare workers as new metric for alert levels
Yet another bid by the government to look out for manpower in hospitals is to introduce the number of available health care workers in an area as a new metric for determining the COVID-19 risk of an area, say a city or province.
Nograles said the pandemic task force is considering adding this metric, apart from current benchmarks like health care utilization rate, two-week growth rate of cases, and average daily attack rate.
The move would be a recognition of how much health care systems rely on medical frontliners. Health care systems, in turn, determine how prepared an area is to handle a large number of COVID-19 infections.
Duterte wants higher special risk allowance for hospital volunteers
To address growing concerns on hospital or health facility staffing, Duterte wants an increase in the special risk allowance for graduating medical students who volunteer at COVID-19 facilities while awaiting their board exam results.
“To those who are entertaining the idea of getting into the role of volunteers, I will raise the amount,” said Duterte, referring to the P5,000 special risk allowance (SRA) volunteers receive but which he described as too low.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed with the President’s directive, saying the SRA amount is a “pittance.”
Duterte, however, could not give an exact amount for the increase in SRA, saying he still needed to consult budget officials.
To alleviate the strain on hospitals and health care workers, the task force said it would be creating a policy that would encourage home quarantine and use of telemedicine for asymptomatic, mild, and moderate cases. This would then free up hospitals to focus on severe and critical patients.
Doctors present at the Thursday meeting emphasized the need for such a shift in policy, especially since high vaccination rates in Metro Manila have contributed to most infected persons exhibiting only mild symptoms. It’s unvaccinated persons who run the highest risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, they said.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos said 85% of severe and critical patients in Metro Manila hospitals are unvaccinated while the unvaccinated comprised 93% of those who have died from the virus. – Rappler.com