Northern Mindanao's top COVID-19 hospital on Code Red as it sees 3rd wave

Northern Mindanao’s primary COVID-19 referral hospital raised its alert level again to Code Red as Region 10 saw its 3rd wave of surges in infections in the last two weeks, aggravated by the detection of at least seven cases of the more transmissible Delta variant in Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, and Misamis Oriental.

The state-run Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) in Cagayan de Oro went from code yellow to red on Tuesday, July 27, confirmed Dr. Bernard Julius Rocha, the hospital’s liaison officer.

Rocha said on Wednesday, July 28, that the decision was based on a Department of Health (DOH) memorandum that directed the state-run hospital to raise its alert level to Code Red status.

The DOH memo, however, showed that all hospitals throughout the country under it, and practically the entire health department, were directed to go on Code Red Level 4.

A copy of the memorandum, signed by Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega on July 16, indicated that it was received by the NMMC on July 26 or 10 days after the order was issued. 

It was addressed to the minister of health of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), all directors of the Centers for Health Development, and DOH-retained hospitals, medical centers, and sanitaria “in response to the detection of the Delta variant cases in the Philippines.”

Dr. David Mendoza, chief of the DOH’s Local Health Support Division in Northern Mindanao, validated the copy of the document furnished to Rappler.

A Code Red alert level simply means that the health care system’s limit has been reached, and drastic measures were needed to address the problem.

“I cannot speak for the other hospitals, but we went on Code Red yesterday (July 27),” Dr. Rocha told Rappler. Rocha said, "We're now seeing the 3rd wave (of COVID-19 surges)."

But while a conclusion cannot be made because data were insufficient, given the absence of mass testing, Rocha said it would be a safe assumption that the highly transmissible Delta variant has already been spreading in the region undetected.

“Besides, we have the highest number of detected Delta variant cases [in the country] so far,” Rocha pointed out.

Unlike in May when NMMC first raised the Code Red level this year, the hospital immediately devoted its bed capacity for COVID-19 patients to 70% on Tuesday.

The ratio was 50/50 then; now, it’s 70% of NMMC’s bed capacity for COVID-19 patients and only 30% for those admitted to the hospital for other medical problems, said Rocha.

The NMMC was under Code Yellow in June and early July when the documented daily infections were brought to a near plateau, allowing NMMC to lower its bed capacity for COVID-19 patients to 30% from about 50% in May.

Overstretched

Now, the NMMC found its COVID-19 capacity being overstretched again as cases – and the number of infected people in need of hospitalization as a result – surged in recent days.

Rocha said 200 of NMMC’s 210 beds reserved for COVID-19 patients were already taken as of June 26. The same day, more than 30 patients were in NMMC’s emergency room, all waiting for vacancies so they could be admitted.

A DOH official told Rappler, “Based on the [number of] patients queueing for admission, that should be enough proof [that the limit has been reached].”

Rocha said all elective surgeries and leaves of absence of hospital personnel were put on hold because the entire NMMC workforce was needed to function.

He said the NMMC would also turn more wards into COVID-19 units so that the hospital could admit more people who contracted the deadly virus.

Still, the NMMC would be left with the problem of its manpower now being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. 

“We’re rotating them. Our health workers will have to continue doing it in shifts,” Rocha said.

As of July 27, Bukidnon province accounted for 46% of the COVID-19 cases in Northern Mindanao, registering 147 of the region’s 378 cases that day, DOH data showed.

Cagayan de Oro logged 130 of the new cases, while Misamis Oriental counted 70.

The region’s seven Delta variant cases were detected in Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, and Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental. Five of the cases were in Cagayan de Oro.

DOH data also showed 14 new COVID-19 cases in Misamis Occidental, 10 in Iligan City, 5 in Lanao del Norte, and 2 in Camiguin Island as of Tuesday, July 27. – Rappler.com