Dinagat province records first COVID-19 cases

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 August) –  Of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, Dinagat Islands province was COVID-19-free from the lockdown in mid-March until Saturday, August 22 when the Provincial Inter-Agency Task Force (PIATF)  announced it had just received the results that seven out of 10 suspected cases tested positive of SARS-CoV-2, the virus the causes COVID-19.

In a statement, the PIATF said the island province is “ready and able to ensure the containment of COVID-19 to avoid any transmission to the general population with the help of our municipal counterparts and all our frontliners.”

“We have already prepared for this—with our communities as our frontline—since the beginning of our efforts to ensure the health and safety of each and every Dinagatnon,”  it said.

Of  the seven COVID-19 positives, four are from Loreto town, two from Cagdianao and one from San Jose.All are “currently stable and asymptomatic.”

Map of the province of Dinagat Islands courtesy of Google Maps

The PIATF said that from July 31, Dinagat Islands welcomed home at least 200 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who were among those who gathered at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila through the Hatid Tulong program of the Office of the President and the Department of Transportation.

Most of them “travelled without being tested by those who sent them home, and if ever they were tested, they only underwent rapid antibody testing, a very unreliable way to determine COVID-19 infection,” the PIATF said.

The PIATF said it knew the risks associated with the entry of the LSIs and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs),  having seen what happened to other provinces, but did not hesitate to welcome them home because “they are our fellow citizens—our neighbors, relatives, and friends” and the province’s policy in dealing with the pandemic has, since the beginning, “always been based on human rights and guided by compassion.”

Those who arrived in Dinagat from Manila “all went straight to our Care and Containment Centers, where they were placed under strict mandatory quarantine” and had no interaction with anyone except the health workers who attended to them.

“All their movements were controlled and monitored by our medical frontliners. With this, we can verify that we still do not have any cases of local transmission,” the statement added.

Five of the seven positives are currently in the Provincial Care and Containment Center managed by the Provincial Government together with the Provincial Department of Health Office and the two cases from Loreto are in their Municipal Care and Containment Center but will be transferred to the Provincial Care and Containment Center on Saturday “to ensure closer proximity to our referral hospitals in the event that they require admission.”

Care and Containment

In an earlier statement, Dr. Jillian Francise Lee, Provincial Health Officer, said:  “Since Day 1, the goal was never about ensuring zero COVID-19 cases. Instead, we focused and we are consistently focusing on the capacity to control any source of infection and prevent local transmission.”

Lee explained that they have been continuously implementing the different protocols on border control and infection containment as early as February.

“All individuals entering the province are placed under mandatory quarantine in designated Care and Containment Centers. We have done this long before the entry of LSIs and ROFs and we will continue to do the same in any situation since this is our primary means to ensure that any confirmed case of COVID-19 infection will be properly contained,” she said.

Lee said the only major adjustment they made after the influx of LSIs and ROFs was to create additional Care and Containment Centers managed by the Provincial Government to accommodate individuals that cannot be housed by their respective municipalities due to overcapacity.

As of August 20, the total number of LSIs who returned to Dinagat Islands was 2,897 and 59 ROFs, including those who waited for their ride at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

Positive reinforcement

Even before the LSIs and ROFs arrived, Dinagat had been strictly enforcing the policy of 14-day quarantine for anyone who enters the island province ––Dinagatnons who are neither LSI nor ROFs but arrived in Dinagat from Surigao or other neighboring areas, and non-residents who enter the province on official government or private business.

From mid-March to August 20, a total of 7,489 persons who arrived in Dinagat, including LSIs and ROFs, had completed the 14-day quarantine and are referred to as “graduates.”

Jeff Crisostomo, Provincial Information Office chief, told MindaNews that  referring to them as “graduates” is one form of positive reinforcement to ensure no COVID-19 transmission will happen in Dinagat.

The Provincial Government had earlier said in a statement in Cebuano that calling a person who completed 14 days quarantine a “graduate” is something to be proud of because he or she contributed to the collective move to ensure the safety of Dinagatnons.

“Giingon na nato pirmi: our communities, our frontline. Kita mismo ang makigbatok aron mapanalipdan ang atong isig lumulupyo sa probinsya. Tungod niini, congrats sa tanang nga nmga naka-graduate na!” (As we always say: our communities, our frontline. We, ourselves, are together in this fight to protect everyone in the province. Because of this, let us congratulate everyone who has graduated), it added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)