BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – For the first time in many years, the city and the province faced a different Lenten season: with a health crisis.
As the stifling heat of the El Nino continues to bear down on the province’s more than two million people and as the tiempo muerto or dead season of the sugar industry starts to creep in, leaders here ordered a closure of borders in an effort to halt the spread of the COVID19.
As Sunday yesterday gave way to the third Monday of the month, the start of another workweek, schools here on all levels, both public and private, were closed on orders of the mayor, Evelio Leonardia.
The order, Number 21, was the latest issuance by Leonardia in the several days.
Before that, he ordered a suspension of mass gatherings, and classes on all levels in all schools.
Today, the local officials were kept busy by meetings, while their deputies were kept busy in the front lines, manning the fort in a bid to contain the virus called COVID-19.
Frontliners are besieged with challenges – the lack of complete PPE’s, and thermal scanners, for instance – but they soldier on as the city experienced Day 1 of the community quarantine declared by the city mayor.
In a southern barangay here, for instance, volunteer health workers, school nurses, and police implement directives given them as precautionary measures against the COVID-19.
“We only have one thermal scanner,” school nurse Vicmar Ojoy said, almost apologetically, as he explained why they – and the others manning the Sum-ag checkpoint – are flagging down only public transportation units like buses, and jeepneys.
If we flag down everyone, we might not finish by nightfall, Vicmar told DNX. So their priorities, he said, are Ceres buses or public transport from far-flung areas.
The Sum-ag checkpoint is a choke point, an often congested passageway where large vehicles, heavy equipment, and trucks laden with sugar cane or other agriculture product pass through. It also shares borders with Bago, making the barangay an entry point for people and goods to southern Negros.
The lack of enough thermal scanners – only one deployed at the checkpoint at the moment – made progress slower for the personnel in charge.
The lack of complete PPEs – Vicmar and fellow health workers and other government personnel are only assigned one N95 mask and a pair of gloves each, plus disinfectant – are also hounding the frontliners as they face people who could be potential carriers of the virus.
What is done in case – just in case – an individual exhibits flu-like symptoms?
“They are made to fill in these forms,” Teejay Guerrero, health volunteer, said as he showed DNX the form from the City Health Office containing, among others, a checklist of symptoms, including hotlines of whom to call, as well as protocols for quarantine.
This was confirmed by school nurse Lizelle Seccion, one of those manning the checkpoint close to the Mansilingan-Murcia border, headed by Police Lt. Florentino Abalayan.
As motorists and passengers were lining up for their thermal scan, Seccion shouted instructions and questions, “Do you have family or relatives who have been to Manila or abroad? If you have, please reveal it so we can take proper measures.”
This is necessary, she said, because people who have been in close contact with individuals who have relatives who came home from Manila or any other area affected by COVID would be immediately identified as a person under monitoring (PUM).
The Mansilingan checkpoint is much more crowded and more hectic than the Sum-ag one. Abalayan was the one dispensing alcohol, as another government worker operates the thermal scanner.
So far, not one motorist had been told to stay behind or go on home quarantine as their temperatures appear normal.
A temperature of 37.6 or higher would be enough cause to declare the person a PUM, and advise him/her to go under home quarantine.
“In this heat, thermal scans can register a higher than normal number. If that is the case, they are advised to hydrate and rest. They are then told to undergo another round (of scanning). If on the third time they still register a high temperature, that means they are febrile. That’s when they are advised to go on quarantine, and undergo precautionary measures against the virus,” she said.
Checkpoint team leader Abalayan said so far, they have not met any resistance from the general public.
“Everyone has been cooperative,” he said.
Behind him, motorists and passengers who were asked to disembark from private and public vehicles continue to line up for the scan.
It is the same routine that would be expected the next day.