Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores asked the national government on Wednesday, August 4, to continue funding contact-tracing teams under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and provide cash aid for residents affected by the current surge in COVID-19 cases.
Miraflores’ appeal came after the Western Visayas regional health office reported a jump in Aklan’s active COVID-19 cases from 1,832 on August 2 to 2,137 the day after.
The governor, citing the same figures, said Aklan’s COVID-19 positivity rate rose from 44.25% to 57.75% in the same period. That means more than half of all people tested turned up positive results in a province with a population of 605,584.
In Iloilo City, Mayor Jerry Treñas urged the local emergency team to focus on increasing bed capacity and funding new hires for hospitals scrambling to take in serious and severe cases from other provinces.
The spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths has also overburdened the island’s lone crematorium, forcing the city and provinces to take emergency measures in disposing of bodies.
Treñas said the city will bring in a 40-footer -20° freezer van that will house cadavers waiting for cremation.
The crematorium has announced a three-week moratorium on bodies coming from outside the city. Provinces, including Aklan, will have to bury their residents in special sections of public cemeteries, double wrapping remains in plastic, and enforcing burial within 12 hours of death.
Fears of the Delta spread
The Aklan governor, in a radio interview, said he fears that the Delta variant, which has infected at least six people in Antique and Iloilo, could have entered his province, although they are still waiting for results of genome sequencing tests.
Entire families are getting sick, he pointed out. Officially, only the Beta variant has been found in the province, but one of the island’s confirmed Delta cases was found near Antique’s busy border with Aklan.
The local government immediately imposes granular lockdowns in communities showing a jump in cases. But the governor said the province needs help with contact tracing and in beefing up hospital personnel.
Miraflores said contract-tracing contracts funded by the DILG are set to expire this week, threatening to derail a key aspect in halting the spread of infections.
Aklan’s 300-bed provincial hospital needs more frontliners, he added, since most private hospitals in the province are small and not equipped to handle critical cases.
Aklan’s 137 deaths from May to July this year are almost triple the 47 recorded from March 2020, when the Philippines first recorded the first COVID-19 cases, to April 2021.
The DOH regional office said 95 people died in Aklan over the last four weeks. Miraflores said most were elderly and with comorbidities and came into hospitals with severe symptoms.
The governor said all families in lockdown automatically receive food aid from the local government. But he asked the national government to provide cash aid due to hardships suffered under the current MECQ lockdown.
Iloilo City started the distribution of P461.7 million in cash aid for 115,000 families on August 4.
But the city government is struggling to cope with the intense pressure brought on its health system by Aklan’s emergency and other cases in the provinces of Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, and other towns in Iloilo province.
Iloilo City’s COVID-19 team focal person, Dr. Roland Jay Fortuna, on August 3, said their coronavirus wards are already 81% occupied.
Infected residents not needing hospitalization also occupy 78% of isolation beds, he added.
The critical ICU occupancy level is due to the dearth of critical care facilities among Panay’s five provinces.
“Some provinces have minimal ICU beds and others have none at all,” said Fortuna.
Only 40% of patients in Iloilo City hospitals are residents, while 60% come from other provinces, Fortuna added.
The city reported 91 new COVID-19 cases, including two returning residents, on August 3.
Panay’s lone crematorium is struggling to meet the island’s needs.
Treñas said his city “cannot bury in our area because of our lowland level that will contaminate the underground waters.”
“We will work with the crematorium to find a 40-footer -20° freezer van that will house the cadavers while waiting for cremation in the meantime. The OCD [Office of Civil Defense] will talk to the public cemeteries in other provinces so the cadavers will have a decent burial site while we wait for the freezer van.” – with reports from Jun Aguirre/Rappler.com