‘WAIT-AND-SEE’: City restrictions anchored to COVID case trend

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Iloilo City government on Tuesday said that it was still unsure if restrictions will be further tightened amid a new record high of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

The City Epidemiological Surveillance Unit (CESU) reported yesterday 352 new COVID-19 cases that were logged on Monday, Jan 17 (88 index cases and 264 local transmissions).

Index cases, or new cases as the CESU reported, refer to those who had not been identified as close contacts and have no known history of exposure. Local transmissions refer to those who had been listed as close contacts of previously confirmed COVID patients.

Based on their districts of residence, Jaro recorded the most number of new cases (94), followed by Molo (62), Arevalo (58), Mandurriao (46), City Proper (38), La Paz (34), and Lapuz (21).

As to the local cases’ vaccination status, only 5 are completely vaccinated with booster shots, 28 are fully vaccinated, 12 are unvaccinated, and 8 are under clinical trial. The statuses of 298 patients are yet to be verified.

There were also no partially vaccinated persons logged for the said date.

The Jan 17 tally does not include other COVID cases which were also confirmed by the CESU, such as 174 Iloilo province residents, 33 remaining positive on repeat swab tests, 32 reinfections, 8 returning residents, 8 Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROF), and 8 Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APOR).

The city government’s COVID Team spokesperson Jeck Conlu reiterated to Daily Guardian via phone interview that the spike in cases was due to local transmissions set off by returning residents and APORs from outside of Panay Island.

Conlu also noted that many frontliners in the health care sector were also infected in this latest COVID surge.

The Iloilo Doctors’ Hospital sent a letter to Mayor Jerry Treñas informing him of the temporary suspension of consultations and admissions in its Out-Patient Department due to Emergency Room nurses contracting the disease.

“Our first cases [in January] were of returning residents and APORs who went to Luzon, Cebu, and Boracay, and when we mandated the RT-PCR tests, they tested positive and there already had been local transmissions in their households by then, and there are now cases from our hospitals,” Conlu said.

He also said that hospitals are already starting to reach their maximum capacity and may possibly reach a critical level, but he allayed fears of hospitals overflowing with patients as most cases were mild and asymptomatic with only rare active moderate, severe, and critical cases.

“Our hospital utilization rate is already up to or more than 60 percent so that is why we continue to coordinate with the hospitals to check if they still have capacity. Eventually, if it keeps climbing up, we may reach a critical level. What we are doing now is preparing our modular hospital in Sooc [Arevalo], the personnel to be deployed, and other consumables to be distributed and purchased by the city government for those with COVID,” Conlu said.

In response to the current surge in cases, Conlu said the city government has continued to implement and strictly enforce Executive Order No. 004 series of 2022, as amended, which mandates the city government’s policies under Alert Level 3.

The EO also includes prohibitions on mass gatherings and contact and non-contact sports, and limited capacities for restaurants and other similar establishments to 30 percent (indoor) and 50 percent (outdoor) if all workers are vaccinated and if the establishment has a Safety Seal certification, among other limitations.

Conlu also mentioned the recent issuance of E.O. No. 009 series of 2022, which ordered a granular lockdown over 15 barangays in the city.

As to whether the city government is considering to further tighten restrictions, Conlu said that it is not being considered yet, and will depend on the situation in the next few weeks.

“[EO No. 004] is until January 31, which means our restrictions are active until then, so we will see. As much as possible, we don’t want to go back into a lockdown. We are just limiting, as much as we can, the movement of those below 12 years and above 65 years old, except for availing essential and medical services,” he said.

The city government also continues to coordinate with the business sector, and study the possibility of the assistance it may give to affected establishments and workers.

Conlu said that they continuously push testing and vaccination drives in the city.

Those with symptoms, history of travel to high-risk areas, or recommended by doctors for hospital admissions may get a referral from their respective district health centers for free swab sample collection at the La Paz Gym, operating from Mondays to Saturdays.