BUKIDNON, Philippines – The number of COVID-19 cases in Northern Mindanao increased nearly 20 times in just a week, and local officials were worried about another wave of infections in the region in the coming days.
From only three cases on New Year’s Eve, newly documented cases climbed to 59 as of Thursday, January 6, data from the Department of Health (DOH) in Northern Mindanao showed.
The DOH recorded only one case each in the provinces of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental, and Cagayan de Oro City on the last day of 2021. The number of newly documented cases then rose to nine a day after New Year’s Day, dropped to five on January 3, surged to 30 on January 4, 57 on January 4, 57 on January 5, and 59 on January 6.
It was a 15.2% increase in the number of newly documented COVID-19 cases from Sunday to Thursday.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno said the data indicate that the city and other areas in Northern Mindanao would see a surge in COVID-19 infections similar to what the region saw in 2021 when it logged three-digit and at times, four-digit single-day cases.
“The sudden increase in cases in both the city and Northern Mindanao is disturbing,” Moreno said.
Moreno attributed the surge to the Christmas and New Year’s Day revelries. “There is no other explanation for this,” he said.
He noted that Cagayan de Oro logged two of the new cases in the region on January 2, and then the city counted 13 more two days later.
“It’s a reflection of what’s happening in Manila which has been placed on Alert Level 3,” Moreno said.
The City Health Office documented 16 new cases on Thursday, raising its active cases to 43 as of this posting.
Of the 16, 13 are local index cases, said CHO medical officer Dr. Teodoro Yu Jr.
Yu said the increase in COVID-19 cases in the region happened despite the relatively high vaccination rate in Northern Mindanao.
The uptrend also pushed the city’s average daily attack rate (ADAR) to 39% and the two-week growth rate (TWGR) to 135%, Yu said.
In a press statement, Moreno said, “We are preparing more city units to isolate those with close contacts… Again, we call on city residents to fully cooperate and have themselves isolated even if they are asymptomatic rather than risk the safety of their families. They should also cooperate with our contact tracers and have themselves tested.”
Neighboring Bukidnon province also recorded an increase in new infections – all those infected were unvaccinated. Data showed the province recorded 49 new cases as of this posting, and no COVID-19-related deaths since December 1, 2021.
Dr. Gary Guido Tabios, provincial health officer, said he feared the cases would further increase with the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreading throughout the country.
But Tabios said there has been no report about the detection of the more transmissible variant in Bukidnon and elsewhere in Northern Mindanao.
“If our cases go up in the coming days, Omicron will likely be the variant,” he said.
If it’s any consolation, Tabios said, Bukidnon has maintained its low-risk status in terms of the ADAR.
Only the towns of Libona and Manolo Fortich have registered an ADAR of 1.36% and 1.39% while the 18 other towns and two cities are still classified under low risk.
However, the two-week growth rate from December 9 to December 23, and from December 24 to January 7 brought 14 towns in Bukidnon from low to medium risk status.
The towns of Lantapan, Maramag, Quezon, and Talakag have remained low-risk areas in terms of growth rates, but the component cities of Malaybalay and Valencia and the towns of Libona and Manolo Fortich are now in the high-risk category in terms of growth rates.
Between December 13, 2021, until January 5, 2022, Malaybalay and Valencia – Bukidnon cities that were hurt by the August-September 2021 surge – recorded no COVID-19 case.
Dr. Miguel Antonio Prantilla, chief of the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center (BPMC), said the number of hospital admissions was still relatively low at two to three new patients daily since the increase was noted, and most of those who sought medical help tested negative for COVID-19.
“The cases are still low. But I am urging the public to continue to observe utmost care this time,” Prantilla said.
Tabios said Bukidnon has so far inoculated about 59% or more than 600,000 of its target population, and more than 700,000 already received their first jabs.
“Hopefully, by the end of this month, we could inoculate 70% or 1,068,000 people,” said Tabios.
He said 10,936 people in Bukidnon, many of them health workers, also received their booster shots.
Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri reiterated his appeal for Bukidnon residents to get vaccinated.
“COVID-19 is still here. This is a menacing virus that we should all fight against. Please look after your families. Get everyone in your family inoculated. Do you want to see more dead people when there is a vaccine that can protect us?” Zubiri said on Tuesday, January 4. –Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship