Full rooms, supply shortage, understaffed shifts: Philippine frontliners bare challenges in COVID-19 fight

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24)— "We go to work for you; please stay at home for us."

The quote has made rounds on social media— with health workers pleading for residents to strictly follow home quarantine protocols amid the rapid spike of COVID-19 cases worldwide.

The case is true even in the Philippines, where a Luzon-wide quarantine has been enforced to help curb the spread of the infectious disease.

"If you're not sick, don't loiter around. Just follow social distancing," Dr, Marc Reyes, chairman of the Asian Hospital's Emergency Department, said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

"Let's follow this lockdown and hopefully the lockdown can help flatten the curve," he added, while holding out a sign of the viral message.

Local frontliners have had their fair share of woes in the health crisis, with groups calling for donations for essential medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, masks, and alcohol.

Some large companies as well as foreign entities have pitched in support, but with confirmed local cases rising by the day, the challenges for the health sector continue to pile up.

CNN Philippines spoke to some of the country's frontliners to learn more about the field's daily journey with COVID-19.

Not your normal work day

Reyes noted the Muntinlupa-based hospital has experienced a somewhat "paradigm shift" of admissions— with doctors treating familiar faces for different reasons.

"We're used to serious kinds of illnesses like heart attack or stroke, you know. Some trauma patients come in regularly, that's the regular routine patients that we see. This time, we see the same patients coming in. But the hard part is seeing them getting critically ill. Some people succumb to the disease," Reyes said.

He added 90 percent of the patients who go the hospital take the trip for COVID-related matters, with some experiencing symptoms such as severe cough, colds, and diarrhea.

The Philippines has recorded 501 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday morning, including 33 fatalities and 19 recoveries. Like some hospitals around Metro Manila, where the bulk of the cases were reported, Asian Hospital also faced restraints when it comes to physical capacity.

Dr. Carlos Gabriel, emergency medicine physician and Senior Medical Affairs Manager, said the hospital's ward rooms and intensive care units are full. However, the facility will continue to accommodate patients at their emergency room.

"What we're seeing with this disease is that people sit longer which means that the rooms are not freeing up that fast," Gabriel said.

Understaffed shifts, lack of medical supplies

Another big challenge health workers currently face is the lack of manpower.

Due to their first-hand exposure while treating COVID-positive patients, some doctors and other health care staff were required to undergo quarantine, thus resulting in "understaffed" shifts for some hospitals.

"So if that happens, our numbers on the shift are decreased and that means more work for the people who are left behind working," Reyes said.

On top of this, some local health facilities— including the big, renowned hospitals in the metro— have also reported lack of medical supplies, including the PPEs for frontliners.

"We also understand that the suppliers, the people who are manufacturing these work in another country and that country was also hit... So right now it's very difficult to get these PPEs that are necessary to protect our staff," Gabriel added.

COVID-19 a 'serious' issue

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which is related to the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, but is not as deadly, with the fatality rate standing at around three to four percent.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of patients only experience “mild illness” and eventually recover. It added that some 15 percent experience severe illness while five percent were critically ill.

Gabriel, however, said this should not stop the public from considering the severity of the issue at hand.

"It is serious, something not to be scoffed at. It's something to be taken seriously. It has infected our friends, family," the doctor noted.

COVID-19 is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze.

To prevent infection, authorities are urging people to practice regular hand washing, cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with those who show respiratory symptoms.

Globally, the infectious disease has affected over 380,000 individuals in 168 different countries including China, where the virus first spread. More than 16,500 deaths have also been recorded worldwide.

RELATED: DOH sets up COVID-19 emergency hotlines

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.