Virus patient confined belatedly due to poor coordination between local IATFs

Gualberto Laput

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Virus patient confined belatedly due to poor coordination between local IATFs
'We have a lapse here; we have a problem,' says pulmonologist Philip Limsi

DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines – The case of a transient woman from Cebu City who tested positive for COVID-19 here on Saturday, June 13, bared a lack of foresight and coordination among Zamboanga del Norte’s (ZN) local government officials regarding the return of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). 

“Coordination is lost because of the influx of LSIs,” said Dr Esmeralda Nadela, provincial health officer and vice-chair of ZN’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19, in a press conference the same day. 

On Saturday night, Dipolog Mayor Darel Dexter Uy announced that Patient 002, a 23-year-old woman who has been confined in Corazon C. Aquino Hospital since June 8, tested positive for the virus. 

Nadela said that Patient 002 arrived at the Port of Dipolog with 82 other passengers on the morning of June 6. Five passengers were Dipolog-bound, 3 were heading to neighboring Dapitan, and the rest were heading to different municipalities in Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur. (READ: Planning to leave your province or the metro under GCQ? What you should know)

Patient 002 was supposed to proceed to Zamboanga City, but there was no available transportation, and the Zamboanga government was also unable fetch her due to an influx of LSIs. This compelled the ZN and Dipolog IATF to put her in home quarantine at her half-sister’s apartment in Barangay Sta. Isabel.

The IATF then belatedly learned that Patient 002 had already been under quarantine in Cebu from May 15 to 29, but went on a despedida (farewell) party with her officemates the day before boarding a Medallion boat for Dipolog.

“I only learned about her party-party when the IATF in Cebu called up [on June 8] and told me Patient 002’s two companions tested positive for COVID-19, and that [the local government had started] contact tracing. I decided to immediately put Patient 002 in isolation and have her swab tested,” Nadela said.

Patient 002 had only mild cold when brought to the hospital, but later experienced sore throat and loss of smell and taste.

“We have a lapse here; we have a problem,” said the hospital’s pulmonologist Philip Limsi, also at the press conference.

LAPSE. Pulmonologist Philip Limsi chides officials of the Dipolog and Zamboanga del Norte Inter-Agency Task Force. Photo from Gualberto Laput/Rappler

Limsi told officials of the joint ZN and Dipolog IATF that Patient 002 should have been interviewed on whether she had made close contact with other people after her quarantine in Cebu, and that she should have undergone rapid testing.

“We cannot put on home quarantine somebody who is a transient; she should have just been put in an isolation area. By letting her go to her half-sister’s apartment, we have unnecessarily exposed our community to COVID-19,” Limsi added. (READ: Stranded because of lockdown? Here’s what you need to know)

The pulmonologist also said that even the tallying of COVID-19 patients is already confusing, citing the province’s Patient 001, a Norwegian, who stayed in Dipolog for a month and tested positive for the disease in Makati City.

The Department of Health (DOH) and local IATF tallied Patient 001 in Dipolog because the Norwegian stayed for a relatively long time in Dipolog and was tested positive only upon arrival in Makati.

“If we follow the same line of thinking, Patient 002 should have been tallied in Cebu because she stayed there for relatively a long time and tested positive only after arriving in Dipolog,” Limsi said.

In response, Nadela said that it was the DOH that decided where to tally the patients.

As to the gap in coordination, she said that the ZN and Dipolog IATF could not be blamed because their responsibility was just to check the arriving LSI’s documents.

“Considering that Patient 002 has a medical certificate, underwent quarantine in Cebu, and has Travel Authority, we have no reason to refuse her,” Nadela stressed, adding that it should be the responsibility of the Cebu IATF. “They should have asked her if she went out after quarantine before giving her Travel Authority.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Uy said they are doing containment measures in the barangay where Patient 002 stayed a couple of days, but are still studying whether to order general community quarantine again. Zamboanga del Norte is currently on modified general community quarantine.

ZN IATF Incident Commander Joey Bernard said that he will ask the National IATF on June 15 that LSI arrivals in Zamboanga del Norte be suspended for at least a week, or until they can fix the monitoring system on arriving LSIs. –

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