Efforts to fight spread of COVID-19 hampered by lack of masks, thermal guns, test kits

CAGAYAN DE ORO  (MindaNews / 22 March) — The lack of masks, thermal guns and medical equipment has stymied efforts by health workers who are risking their lives to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

At a quarantine checkpoint in Baloy, this city, policemen resort to spraying the hands of passing motorists with sanitizers because they do not have thermal guns.

A policeman stops a vehicle at the quarantine checkpoint in Alae, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon on March 21, 2020. The province of Bukidnon has implemented strict community quarantine measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Health workers manning the quarantine checkpoint in Alae, Manolo Fortich town have only one thermal gun for hundreds of commuters entering the province of Bukidnon.

Local governments caught by surprise by the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in the country and the rise in the number of persons under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs) in their areas following the lockdown in COVID-infected Metro Manila are in quandary where to buy thermal guns and other equipment to fight the highly contagious virus. The lockdown in the national capital triggered an exodus to the provinces, triggering spikes in the number of PUIs and PUMs.

“We have the money and we want to buy more thermal guns but there is no supplier who can get us some, “ Maricel Casiño-Rivera, Cagayan de Oro public information officer said.

The first confirmed COVID-19 case in Mindanao, a male who sought refuge in Metro Manila because of the 2017 Marawi siege and who had recently returned from Metro Manila, was admitted in a private hospital in Iligan City on March 3 then transferred to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center  (NMMC) in this city on March 8. He expired on March 13.

A week ago, Dr. Jose Chan, NMMC chief,  appealed for masks, gloves and alcohol for their medical staff.

A number of civic clubs and individuals heeded the call and donated masks, gloves and even food for the hospital medical staff.

The shortage of face masks and alcohol has hit the ceiling in Cagayan de Oro. Health officials are advising residents to wash their hands with soap as often as possible.

The Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) commissioned several wives of their members to make masks from clothes that can be discarded.

COPC president Manny Jaudian said the cloth masks would be distributed to reporters and media workers who cannot afford or could not find face masks in the city.

Others like former ABS-CBN station manager Donna Ocampo banded together with other executives to make improvised face shields made of plastic.

Ocampo and her fellow volunteers have distributed 200 of these to the medical staff of the NMMC.

Chan said the hospital does not have test kits and had to send  samples of the nasopharyngeal swabs to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM)  in Manila.

Chan said the samples are shipped to Manila and it would take 15 days for the results to come out.

A policeman stops a vehicle at the quarantine checkpoint in Alae, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon on March 21, 2020. The province of Bukidnon has implemented strict community quarantine measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Last week, the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, the designated laboratory for COVID-19  to serve Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, finally received testing kits. The number of kits, however, was only 100 and medical technologists found only 80 could be used by the hospital.

In Cagayan de Oro City, fears have been expressed that COVID-19 is lurking in the city’s suburbs and urban poor communities.

Rivera said the city government has plans to mount a house-to-house inspection.

“We have already organized the teams but we are still waiting for the thermal guns to arrive,” she said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

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