Health official, doctors' group say Bicol hospitals not yet at 100% capacity but stricter protocols needed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — A Health Department official and a doctors' group refuted on Thursday a recent claim that hospitals in the Bicol Region are already 100% full following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past weeks.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' New Day, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said that he has talked to various doctors and local officials about the situation in the region.

"There are really areas there wherein there is a spike in terms of the number of active cases. Although the ICU rate has not been as critical wherein there is 100% [utilization]," he said.

Dr. Ricardo Isip, governor of the Philippine Medical Association for Bicol Region agreed that bed occupancy is not at 100 percent. However, he pointed out that healthcare utilization rate cannot merely be based on bed occupancy but also on the availability of health workers responding on the ground.

"When you count the hospital beds and you base your assumption from the total number of hospital beds, not considering the human resource, nurses and doctors are going on quarantine after they serve for about seven days straight in a COVID-19 ward," Isip said. "So, this system would minimize the number of healthcare personnel doing the duty on ground."

"So, it's not 100% every time because some of these personnel get infected and they are quarantined. And there's no mechanism to change or to replace these people who are employed," he added.

Dr. Eloisa Pornillos, the president of Philippine College of Physicians - Bicol chapter, said on Wednesday that private and public hospitals in the region are 100% full.

However, Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero also disagreed with this statement. He noted that the occupancy rate of quarantine facilities in Sorsogon is only at 38% while that of COVID-19 beds is only at 56%.

Vega said a more intensive "isolation, detection, and quarantining of suspect cases" are all considered crucial steps to control transmission in the region.

Meanwhile, Isip stressed that LGUs in the region must implement stricter health protocols and members of the community must follow them.

"There seems to be laxity and complacency with regards to the community where there are small group gatherings. If you have the minimum health protocols in place and there's no one monitoring them, complacency will set in," he said.

Medical groups in Bicol earlier flagged the "worsening" surge of cases in May and June due to localized transmission sweeping most parts of the region. They said an average of 183 new cases daily are logged in the region, with Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon as the biggest source of new infections.