South Cotabato braces for another spike in COVID-19 cases

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 5 Jan) – Health authorities in South Cotabato province are bracing for another possible spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases by next month amid the resurgence of new infections in Metro Manila and other areas in the country.

Dr. Rogelio Aturdido Jr., South Cotabato health officer, said they are closely monitoring the situation in the province’s 10 towns and lone city due to the threats posed by the spread of the disease variants, especially the Omicron strain.

Based on previous trends, he said the local health sector is on alert for a potential surge by the second or third week of February.

“If we’re seeing a spike in areas where the vaccination is high, how much more here in our area since our coverage is still low and the activities are just the same?” Aturdido said in a radio interview.

He cited the rise in public gatherings and related activities in the past several weeks, especially during the Christmas holidays, with many people not observing the minimum health standards.

Movement and community quarantine restrictions in South Cotabato and other parts of Soccsksargen have eased since October last year due to the significant decrease in new COVID-19 cases.

The active COVID-19 cases in the province further dropped to only 44 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, with only one new reported infection. The area posted over 2,500 active cases during a surge in September last year.

Aturdido said they are concerned with the possible spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant despite its milder symptoms when compared to the Delta strain.

“Everyone should remain vigilant and practice proper self-protection, and consider that the Omicron and Delta variants are possibly just around,” he said.

In case of a surge, the official said the province is facing problems in terms of conducting faster reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR testing due to the limited supply of cartridges for its GeneXpert machines.

The provincial government operates a COVID-19 testing laboratory in partnership with privately-run Dr. Arturo P. Pingoy Medical Center in Koronadal City.

The province previously sent swab samples from the area to the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City due to the lack of test cartridges. Aturdido said the province needs to catch up with the vaccination coverage to protect more people from possible severe COVID-19 infections.

As of Monday, Aturdido said only around 300,000 individuals in the province are fully vaccinated while over 150,000 are partially vaccinated or already received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said such coverage is still way below the 707,800 targets for the area to achieve population protection. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)