Losing control

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2021 - 12:00am

With yet another daily record high of 12,674 COVID cases last Saturday, we have lost control of this pandemic.

The highly infectious COVID variants continue to spread wildly, their existence downplayed by epidemiologists, who insisted that lax compliance with health protocols was the bigger culprit. But I know people who have been manic in their adherence to safety measures, and who caught the coronavirus anyway.

People who need to earn a living, and who don’t want to go through the hassle of being tested (or who don’t have the minimum P2,000 for it) are ignoring early signs of infection: a cold, itchy throat, a mild cough or fever. Those temperature scans everywhere help, but they aren’t enough; not all COVID patients develop a fever. And if you’re running a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, you’ll probably be bedridden already.

So people who may already be infected go through their daily routines, taking mass transportation where they sit for an average of 30 minutes with others inside vehicles where distancing is no longer observed. They shop in wet markets, supermarkets, drug stores.

The only time they are forced to get an RT-PCR test is when an unusual symptom pops up: the sudden loss of smell and taste, or difficulty in breathing.

It can take two to three days to book an RT-PCR test these days, and another two or three days before the results come out.

By that time, how many people would have been infected?

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While epidemiologists insist that the COVID variants are not necessarily deadlier, more infections mean more potential for people dying. Entire households and offices are becoming infected. The railway services are crippled because hundreds of their staff have been downed by COVID. Are the variants airborne? This will call for new safety protocols.

A troublesome aspect of the pandemic is that we keep hearing about people getting reinfected, so soon after their original bout with the disease. People aren’t developing immunity or producing enough antibodies. This means COVID “graduates” can’t even donate much needed plasma since there aren’t sufficient levels of antibodies in their blood.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who has several comorbidities, is back in the hospital; we wish him a speedy recovery. Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte also went through a second bout; she said she was asymptomatic the first time and consequently didn’t produce enough antibodies. This time, after a moderate Round 2, she hopes the antibodies are there.

Manila Bulletin editor-in-chief Jun Icban, one of my professors in journalism in the University of the Philippines, reportedly developed pneumonia after he was cleared of COVID. I’m not sure about the accuracy of this story, but if it’s true, it’s a worrisome failure to detect a continuing infection, which is what I think it was; he had not yet gotten rid of the virus completely.

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With vaccines in sufficient numbers still months away, and with all sorts of infectious variants rampaging undetected in our midst, people need to be even more careful.

An ounce of paranoia can even be healthy. A cold, a mild cough, a slight change in temperature and you have to run ASAP to the nearest RT-PCR testing center, isolate from everyone and behave as if you are infected – until you get a negative test result.

Being praning in this way, of course, is a luxury beyond the reach of many Filipinos.

Even that advice to go directly to your barangay health center in case you are experiencing symptoms, for triaging and isolation referral if needed, can be problematic for those whose families won’t eat if they don’t work for even one day.

Such people will worry that their households will be locked down and shunned. This happens especially in crowded informal communities. So they will wait until the last minute before they get themselves tested.

Even among the affluent, there are people who are in denial and refuse to be tested until they can no longer deny the symptoms that they have read about.

In the meantime, they will be spreading their virus around. How many such people do you encounter every day?

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Meanwhile, new cases gallop at 11,000, 12,000 a day, mostly in the NCR Plus. How can the health system cope? Go to any major hospital and you will be greeted with a sign that says their COVID facilities are full and you need to find another hospital.

Except there are no hospitals – unless you’re ready to go to other provinces.

Our contact tracing is kaput, as the contact tracing czar himself has said, aggravating the crisis. No one is tracing COVID-positive people’s recent contacts, who might be infected themselves and are inadvertently spreading the disease.

We’ve entered a new phase in this war, and the government is groping for the proper response.

Like our vaccine procurement efforts, officials keep dropping the ball. It’s a national disaster.

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