Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
Antonio B. Partoza, Jr., a Davao businessman, said he didn’t know where he got the novel coronavirus as he was just staying on his farm where his itinerary is a house, office, and farm. All of them were negative.
But then, in November last year, he lost his senses of smell and taste, a symptom that a person is infected with the coronavirus. When he was confirmed that he was positive, he was brought to a hotel where he stayed for ten days.
“Nothing, just boredom,” he replied when asked what he felt during those times of isolation.
Davao broadcast journalist Aljo Bendijo said he was infected while working at PTV Studio. He had a fever, muscle pains, and a dry cough. Later on, he suffered from bilateral pneumonia (moderate to severe).
Bendijo was isolated for four days in a government quarantine facility and was admitted to Lourdes Hospital in Sta. Mesa, Manila, where he stayed for seven days.
Both were lucky. But not celebrities like Claire dela Fuente, Nestor Torre, Jr., Joey Bautista, Heherson Alvarez, Alfredo Lim, Antonio Cuenco, Elmer Pato, Sixto Brillantes, Oscar Cruz, Lloyd Cadena, Danilo Lim, Reynaldo Umali, Celso Dayrit, Emilio Osmena, and Manuel Morato. They all succumbed to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
They are among the 38,164 Filipinos who died of the dreaded disease as of September 29. Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in March 2020, the Philippines has accumulated 2,535,732 confirmed cases, of which 2,365,229 have recovered, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
So, one wonders: When will this pandemic end?
No one knows. But there are ways the proliferation of the SARS-CoV-2, as the novel coronavirus is called as it is a distant cousin of the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, can be curtailed.
One of the best ways to fight COVID-19 is through vaccination. “We know with certainty that if a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is not developed quickly and distributed widely, enormous numbers of people will die,” said Dr. John Scales Avery, an associate professor emeritus at the H.C. Orsted Institute of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
“A vaccine helps the body’s immune system to recognize and fight pathogens like viruses and bacteria, which then keeps us safe from the diseases they cause,” says the World Health Organization (WHO).
Fortunately, several COVID-19 vaccines were developed. “Once vaccines are demonstrated to be safe and efficacious, they must be approved by national regulators, manufactured to exacting standards, and distributed,” the WHO says.
The Pfizer vaccine was listed for WHO Emergency Use Lising (EUL) on December 31, 2020. The Covishield and AstraZeneca vaccines (developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and SK Bio, respectively) were given EUL on February 16, 2021.
The Janssen vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, was listed for EUL on March 12, 2021. The Moderna vaccine was listed for EUL on April 30, while Sinopharm was listed for EUL on May 7. The Sinovac vaccine was approved for EUL on June 1.
The first mass vaccination program started in early December 2020. “Vaccination protects people from severe illness and death,” says Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa, special adviser of the National Task Force Against COVID-19. “Because vaccinated persons have a shorter illness and lowest viral load, there seems to be some level of transmission blocking as well.”
During his Talk to the People address last September 27, President Rodrigo R. Duterte announced that 20.3 million Filipinos, or 26% of the country’s eligible population, are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while more than 23.6 million have already received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The current population of the Philippines is 111,384,619 based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data.
“Many cities, particularly in Metro Manila, Baguio, Cebu, Iloilo and Davao have already surpassed 50% vaccination of the target population,” Duterte said, adding the government is “targeting to administer around a total of 55 million vaccines by October.”
The PH COVID-19 vaccine tracker, as of September 28, listed 69,699,340 vaccines delivered to the Philippines. About 44,964,020 vaccines were purchased by the national government, while 5,028,500 were procured by local government units and the private sector.
COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, donated 16,067,680 vaccines. Donations from other countries totaled 3,639,140 vaccines.
Despite the success of the vaccination program, health officials still urged Filipinos to follow health protocols to curtail the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2. “The virus will be with us until who knows when, so we must continue practicing new normal standard protocols outside and inside our homes,” says Dr. Paolo Dillera, an internal medicine physician whose clinic is in Metro Davao Medical and Research Center.
The first line of defense against the COVID-19 virus is hand washing. “It is one of the most effective ways to reduce the transmission of pathogens and microorganisms, if done properly,” says Dr. Francis Lagudas, a doctor who works in a government hospital in Sarangani Province.
Hand washing is highly recommended for frontliners, especially among health care professionals. “Our hands are the main pathways of germ transmission in taking care of our sick patients,” Dr. Lagudas says. “As such, hand washing plays an important role in preventing the spread of any infection like COVID-19.”
Here’s how to wash your hands properly: Wet your hand with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Then, rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Well, try humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Then, rinse your hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
How should you use hand sanitizer? Apply the product to the palm of one hand. Rub your hands together. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. A word of concern: Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty.
Wearing face mask
“A person in public without a face mask during a pandemic is a walking septic tank,” said Abhijit Naskar. “When we wear a face mask, you’ll be saving a life. That life could be your own, or someone who means a lot to you,” observed Ron Baratono.
Thus, a face mask is a life-saving device. “Intuitively and through science, one can find enough reasons to continue wearing face masks to curb the transmission of COVID-19,” says Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, a physician who writes a regular health column for Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“It is well established that COVID-19 can be transmitted by fine respiratory particles which may be coming from an infected person,” explains Dr. Castillo, who was a COVID-19 patient before. “Unfortunately, the infected may be asymptomatic (complete absence of symptoms) or paucisymptomatic (very mild, unrecognized infection).”
According to Dr. Castillo, many asymptomatic or paucisymptomatic individuals are unwittingly spreading the virus in the community, in their workplaces, and in their own households. “Intuitively and based on evidence, the use of face masks, especially indoors, can significantly reduce the risk of transmission,” he says.
The SARS-CoV-2 spreads primarily between individuals who are in close contact with each other, generally within one meter. “Transmission of the virus occurs when respiratory droplets or aerosols are inhaled by the person or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth,” explains Dr. Jun R. Ruiz, a gastroenterologist with The Medical City.
“The practice of social and physical distancing slows down the spread of the virus by stopping the chains of transmission,” he further says. “Thus, it is a must to maintain at least one-meter physical distance between yourself and others to reduce your risk of infection, especially when they speak, cough, or sneeze.”
When indoors, he emphasizes that the distance is even greater between yourself and others.
Dr. Teofredo Esguerra, an expedition and wilderness EMS (emergency medical services) physician, supports the idea. “Physical distancing is important because mask protection cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 virus since there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in protection due to face mask alone,” he says.
Dr. Richard Mata, who shares medical information through his social media account, also cites the importance of physical distancing. “If all of us can really achieve physical distancing everywhere, we can easily drop the cases because the virus can’t reach you – not unless it’s from a sneeze or cough as it can push the virus further.”
Face masks, he points out, are also not perfect. “A leak from the side of surgical masks can cause the transmission,” Dr. Mata says. “Therefore, even if everyone is wearing masks, social distancing still needs to be practiced.”
Stay at home
Finally, health officials urged Filipinos to stay at home. “Staying at home is important as it lessens our exposure and decreases the chance of getting infected with SARS-CoV-2,” says Dr. Dillera. “But more importantly, I think having a good immune system and optimum health through exercise and healthy practices are keys in battling this pandemic.”
Dr. Neil Humphrey O. Laquihon, founder of the Reseta QRx, cites several reasons why staying at home is necessary for the curtailment of the COVID-19 virus: “For one, when you stay at home, you stay out of the crowded places. The fewer people you are around with, the lower your chance of being infected.
“For another, staying at home means you help stop the spread of the virus to others. If you are feeling sick – like having a headache or runny nose – this could mean you have the infection. It is advisable for you to stay at home until you feel better,” says Dr. Laquihon, medical coordinator on COVID-19 for hospitals of the province of Cotabato.
He advises not to go to clinics or hospitals if you have mild symptoms because health professionals there “are dealing with many COVID-19 cases and you will make it more busier raising your chance of getting the virus.”