Tawi-tawi hospital’s closure temporary; 55 of 73 workers who tested positive have recovered

DAVAO CITY ( MindaNews / 28 September) – The 25-bed Tawi-tawi provincial hospital has temporarily stopped operations since September 25  and is catering only to emergency surgeries after 73 of its workers, among them eight doctors, tested positive for COVID-19.

But Dr. Sangkula Laja, chief of the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) told MindaNews on Monday that they will resume operations either Tuesday or Wednesday this week after disinfecting the hospital.

Laja also said that out of the 73 infected since the first week of September, 55 had recovered while 18 are considered active cases as of September  28.

The Datu Halun Sakilan Memorial Hospital, the provincial hospital, has a work force of 271, among them 17 doctors, 81 nurses and 12 medical technologists, according to Laja.

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Laja said most of the infected personnel are asymptomatic and the symptomatic among them are mild to moderate cases only. None of the 73 is classified severe or critical, he said.

But hospital personnel assigned in the COVID-19 wards, he noted, were not infected. He said this might be because those who are assigned there wear protective personnel equipment (PPEs).

Laja on September 25, wrote Acting Health Minister Dr. Amieral Usman that he would shut down the hospital  “until further notice” the provincial hospital and hospital component service of the IPHO “where a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases seems to continue to spread within hospital complex”

He proposed to shut down the hospital “until further notice” and use it as isolation and quarantine facility for the infected hospital personnel.

But the Acting Minister of Health in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the hospital should be disinfected first but should resume operations immediately after.

According to Laja, the infected hospital personnel are now quarantined in two hotels in Bongao, courtesy of the provincial government.

Usman authorized Laja to pull out or temporarily reassign health workers from Rural Health Units or hospitals within the province to augment the work force in the provincial hospital,

Usman also tasked Laja to allocate beds in one wing as isolation unit for COVID-19 cases while the other win shall be used for non-COVID cases.

On Friday, the Bangsamoro Rapid Emergency Action Response on Disaster Incidence (READi) under the Ministry of Interior of Local Government (MILG-BARMM)  dispatched to Tawi-tawi  mechanical ventilators that had just arrived from Manila.

From first week of September

Laja told  MindaNews that the surge in cases of COVID-infected hospital personnel was first noted on the first week of September, with four cases.Records from the BARMM’s Ministry of Health show that Tawi-tawi had six cases as of September 7, 10 on September 8, 11 by September 15, and 72 by September 18.

Laja said they had set a series of swab tests for hospital personnel from August 28 to September 19 as they had limited testing kits and had to prioritize those who are symptomatic.

Swabbed specimens were brought to Zamboanga City via a 16-hour boat ride from Bongao, the provincial capital. Sea transport to Zamboanga is only twice a week. In pre-COVID times, it was thrice a week, Laja said.

Selective lockdown

Laja said they imposed a “selective lockdown” and would cater to surgical emergencies while the hospital is being disinfected.

The hospital has four buildings, two of these already disinfected.

He said the source of infection of the hospital personnel is not just within the hospital but through local transmission.

He said they have limited testing kits – only 200 since March —  but he has requested for additional kits.

The province has no COVID-19 testing center although he was informed that that the Department of Health has considered the request of the BARMM’s MOH for a testing center.

In the meantime, swab specimens are shipped to Zamboanga City. The turnaround takes from five to seven days, and ten days at the most because transport is only twice a week, according to Laja.

Results of the RT-PCR test are sent to them via e-mail but internet connection in Bongao is not stable, he said.

Laja said different agencies from the BARMM, the Department of Health’s Central Office in Manila and its Center for Health Development in the Zamboanga Peninsula, had sent them some 3,000 PPEs..

He said they need additional medicines and quarantine facilities. He said the BARMM’s 100-bed isolation facility is still “70 to 80 per cent accomplished.”

As of September 27, Tawi-tawi recorded a total of 104 cases, up from 88 the day before, according to the MOH-BARMM. (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)