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Metro Manila ICU capacity now 'high-risk' as COVID-19 surge continues

Intensive care units in Metro Manila hospitals have been increasingly under strain in the past few days, with 7 out of 10 beds now occupied as coronavirus cases continue to rapidly spread across the region.

Latest figures from the Department of Health (DOH) as of Saturday, March 20, showed that 70.32% or 564 of the 802 beds in hospitals with ICUs are now filled. This is classified as "high-risk," meaning 70% to 85% of beds are occupied.

Days earlier on March 16, ICU capacity in the region was still "moderate," with 6 out of 10 ICU beds filled. (READ: Metro Manila's ICU bed capacity at 'alarming' 64.5% as COVID-19 cases soar)

Researchers studying the pandemic have warned that ICUs of Metro Manila hospitals may reach 100% capacity during the first week of April, if the spread of COVID-19 is not contained.

Why this matters

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Metro Manila's ICU capacity is a "most critical" indicator. The region has been the epicenter of the Philippines' outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

While the DOH also watches out for increasing occupancy of ward and isolation beds, officials pay close attention to ICU capacity as it signals if many are experiencing severe bouts of COVID-19. It also measures the health system's capacity to manage critically ill patients and prevent deaths.

Among the 150 hospitals in Metro Manila, only half or 75 hospitals have ICUs due to the high level of training needed. Of the 75 hospitals with the specialized unit, 28 were at "critical capacity" as of March 20, with over 85% of ICU beds filled, while another 10 were "high-risk." Of the remaining, 30 were still in the safe zone with less than 60% occupancy, while 7 others were "moderate" with 60% to 70% occupancy.

When an ICU is at full capacity, patients who need intensive care may end up waiting elsewhere such as at the emergency room. Hospitals may also need to scale back procedures or surgeries for non-coronavirus patients to free up more resources.

The DOH stressed that its "No. 1 objective" now is to ensure that health care is not delayed or hampered for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. 

Where are ICUs at critical capacity?

Based on DOH data, the following ICUs are at "critical capacity" or close to being full, if not already full:

  1. MCU-FDT Medical Foundation Hospital
  2. Las Piñas Doctors Hospital
  3. Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center
  4. University of Perpetual Help Dalta Medical Center
  5. Makati Medical Center
  6. Mandaluyong City Medical Center
  7. Asian Hospital
  8. Medical Center Muntinlupa
  9. Research Institute for Tropical Medicine
  10. Unihealth Parañaque Hospital and Medical Center
  11. Pasig City General Hospital
  12. Allied Care Experts Medical Center Valenzuela
  13. Medical Center Manila
  14. UP-Philippine General Hospital
  15. Allied Care Experts Medical Center Quezon City
  16. Commonwealth Hospital and Medical Center
  17. East Avenue Medical Center
  18. FY Manalo Medical Foundation
  19. Lung Center of the Philippines
  20. Metro North Medical Center and Hospital
  21. National Children's Hospital
  22. National Kidney and Transplant Institute
  23. Providence Hospital
  24. St Luke's Medical Center
  25. Sta Ana Hospital
  26. Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center
  27. San Lazaro Hospital
  28. Metropolitan Medical Center
What DOH is doing

Since Saturday, Vergeire said, the DOH has been meeting with its expert consultants, epidemiologists, officials from the government's coronavirus task force, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to address increasing hospitalizations across the capital region.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, the treatment czar, is also visiting hospitals to assess if additional personnel are needed and whether hospitals can still expand facilities to treat more patients, Vergeire said.

Aside from these, officials are implementing their Oplan Kalinga strategy, where patients with mild infections are transferred to temporary treatment centers to decongest hospitals for more serious cases.

Under the same strategy, those with COVID-19 who do not need to be hospitalized or cannot observe proper home quarantine are also brought to quarantine facilities.

The approach is similar to what the government did in July to August 2020 – the last time the Philippines saw a surge in cases that nearly crippled the health system

On Monday, March 22, the country hit a fresh single-day record, with 8,019 new COVID-19 cases. Total cases stood at 671,792. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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