CHARLOTTE, North Carolina—I had to ask myself if reports of discrimination by some (I want to believe that it´s some, not all or most) Cagayan de Oro City residents towards persons who may or were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 are reflective of the national attitude or specifically the masses towards COVID-19 patients.
The question cropped up in my subconscious after I learned that the neighbors of a female Barangay 35 resident in Cagayan de Oro City who recovered from and tested negative of COVID-19 was barred from returning home and their refusal had been reaffirmed by the barangay officials.
City health officials and even Mayor Oscar Moreno repeatedly stressed in their daily press briefings that a certificate from the City Health Office (CHO) confirming that a patient is COVID-19-free after their RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests come out negative but somehow their message doesn´t boil or filter down at least to the masses.
And I think I know why at least on the local level meaning there in Cagayan de Oro City and Misamis Oriental. I talked with some Pinoy friends and they also tell me of similar situations in their areas, of neighbors barring suspected, confirmed and recovered COVID-19 patients from returning to their homes even if they live far from said patient.
Despite efforts by the Department of Health (DOH) and local health authorities to remind the public not to discriminate against these patients, the hostility and outright discrimination remains thanks in no small part to the health department´s failure to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases nationwide.
City Health Officer Dr. Lorraine Nery and City Health Office (CHO) resident epidemiologist Dr. Teodulfo Joselito Retuya issued separate appeals for acceptance of these patients albeit with minimum health safety standards in place during the daily press briefings after receiving reports of city residents stoning or hurling stones at the houses of suspected COVID-19 cases.
Mayor Moreno had also issued reminders to the public about these instances of unprovoked and unwarranted hostility towards COVID-19 cases that is clearly borne out of ignorance of how COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another. And this ignorance is being fueled on the local level by barangay officials who are grossly, dangerously misinformed about the nature of COVID-19 transmission.
Dr. Retuya and Dr. Ian Gonzales, chief of DOH-10´s Infectious Diseases Cluster, had time and again reiterated that infection only occurs on close contact or less than one meter face-to-face exposure with a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case and only when persons don´t wear face masks and/or face shields. But acceptance is far from the minds of these hostile city residents from the shanties to the gated communities.
In these uncertain times, it is crucial for people to know about COVID-19 from credible, verified, even umipeachable sources and one cannot get any more official at least in the Philippines than the DOH regardless of how maligned/villified Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is—in fairness he is merely following orders from you-know-who.
But I digress. Contributing in large part to the prevailing ignorance of city residents and Misamisnons on COVID-19 or specifically its transmission and how it can be prevented are the local officials in particular Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny ´Bambi´Emano whose dubious policies such as travel pass and 6 pm curfew for outsiders like Kagay-anons heading to and coming out of the province weren´t grounded on science and evidence-based data.
In one particular instance, he ordered Capitol employees through Provincial Health Officer Dr. Jeric Calingasan not to pass by Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) to avoid being infected by COVID-19. Again, NMMC. is the designated COVID-19 referral hospital in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental province and the rest of northern Mindanao.
Dr. Retuya, whose specialty in epidemiology or the study of epidemics eminently makes him more qualified to talk about COVID-19 than either Dr. Calingasan or Governor Emano, had repeatedly reminded the public that infection is only possible on close proximity and without the persons wearing face masks/face shields or both. Which means that simply passing by the house or hospital occupied by suspect COVID-19 cases won´t infect people at all.
I wonder again how and where Governor Emano gets his ideas on COVID-19. His people like Dr. Calingasan certainly can contact the DOH for assistance—aside from Dr. Gonzales, there´s Asst. Regional DOH-10 Director Dr. David Mendoza, another certified epidemiologist. I even wonder whether Dr. Calingasan has any say on the province´s COVID-19 response programs other than what the Governor dictates on him.
But then Governor Emano´s COVID-19 response policies had been broadcast loud and clear in his favorite radio station, including those antiquated, ignorant preventive measures that contributed to the ignorance and eventual hostility of the masses towards COVID-19 patients whether ailing or fully recovered. Hence, we won´t see the end of this lamentable state of things until more people decide to be informed rightly and practice sound measures in dealing with COVID-19.