With the surge in COVID cases, are the quarantine facilities full too?

Published April 20, 2021, 3:56 PM

by Betheena Kae Unite

  • Total quarantine facilities around PH are about 9,700 with 128,037 beds.
  •  In the NCR, where infections are high, occupancy rate is more than 60%.
  • The Ninoy Aquino Stadium, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Ligtas 3-COVID-19 facility in Las Pinas are about 90% occupied.
  • Unused classrooms at the Ateneo De Manila University (AdMU), University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman,  De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB), and Adamson University (AdU) are already being utilized as temporary isolation facilities.
  • There are currently 15 modular hospital units with 516 beds nationwide which were built to serve as an “extension” to accommodate more COVID-19 patients. 
  • The DPWH  is building more quarantine facilities and modular hospitals to keep up with the spike of new COVID cases – 724 facilities by the end of April, and 300 rooms in modular hospitals by May.

Time flies. It’s been a year since we first learned about quarantine facilities.

It was during this time last year that we saw many sports and entertainment arenas, event halls, basketball courts, evacuation sites, school buildings, hotels, and even empty cargo containers and ships converted into temporary isolation facilities for asymptomatic, and mild cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

But what was called temporary is still around up to this day.

In the span of a year, the number of quarantine facilities built by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in the country doubled. It now has a total of 634 isolation facilities.

From only around 13,000 beds, the nationwide capacity grew to 23,284 beds.

Add to that the quarantine facilities established by the local government units (LGUs) and that brings the total temporary treatment and monitoring facilities to around 9,700 around the country, with a total of 128,037 bed capacity.

While COVID-19 cases continue to surge causing hospital congestion, only 17.40 percent of beds in all quarantine facilities nationwide are occupied as of April 11.

But it is a different story when you look closer at the situation of the pandemic in the National Capital Region (NCR), the epicenter of the pandemic.

NCR quarantine

The capital region, which is now placed in a quarantine “bubble” with four neighboring provinces, has around 90 quarantine facilities including 10 mega isolation sites.

Occupancy rate in these facilities are way higher than the nationwide utilization rate.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that facilities managed by LGUs in the region have close to 7,000 beds. Of these, 4,622 or 66.17 percent are occupied.

The mega quarantine facilities, which have a 1,500 bed capacity, have an occupancy rate of 61.05 percent.

This is keeping the infrastructure department to double the effort within NCR.

“So ang pinakamataas na capacity ay nasa NCR; out of 6,985 total beds, may occupancy na 4,622. Medyo dito kami nakatutok dahil sa NCR po ang pinakamataas na occupancy rate (NCR has the highest capacity, out of 6,985 total beds, 4,622 are occupied. We are now focusing on NCR because it has the highest occupancy rate),” said DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, who is also the isolation czar in the country’s COVID-19 response.

Big cities in the region like Manila, Quezon City, Pasig, Paranaque, Pasay, Marikina, Caloocan, Valenzuela, San Juan, and Navotas continue to operate their respective quarantine facilities.

No LGU closed an isolation center the entire year.

Lack of healthcare workers

While the LGUs believe that the occupancy rate in their quarantine facilities, which are yet to reach the full capacity limit, do not contribute to the congestion of hospitals, they cited some concerns such as lack of healthcare workers and poor referral system.

“Walang pong sinasara. Nagbubukas pa po kami ng bagong building. Hindi lang kami makapagbukas ng panibagong building sa Rizal High School dahil kulang pa po ang healthcare workers (We are not closing any. We are actually opening new buildings. However, we cannot open new buildings at the Rizal High School due to lack of healthcare workers),” Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto said.

Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, on the other hand, said that hospitals are reaching critical capacity because even mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases are being brought there when they should be staying in isolation facilities instead.

Mega quarantine sites

Mega quarantine sites that were built early last year remain operational, Villar said, adding that some of these facilities had to undergo repair works on damages caused by the series of typhoons late in 2020 but they did not close down.

The Ninoy Aquino Stadium, which was among the first sports venues converted into a quarantine site, is still accommodating asymptomatic to mild cases of COVID-19.

The stadium is among the jam-packed mega quarantine facilities in NCR and Central Luzon.

It is about 90 percent occupied along with the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Ligtas 3-COVID-19 facility in Las Pinas.

The NCC Athletes Village and the Pampanga COVID-19 facility in Lubao are fully-occupied as of April 11.

There are 18 mega quarantine sites in the country at present. These facilities, which have a total of 2,720-bed capacity, are jointly manned by the DOH, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and Oplan Kalinga.

‘Opening’ of schools

Schools have also been identified to house isolation facilities.

According to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), isolation facilities in various schools in Metro Manila are expected to become operational “to prevent asymptomatic spreaders from infecting their loved ones at home.”

“We will make them all operational,” PRC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Senator Richard Gordon said on April 14.

Unused classrooms at the Ateneo De Manila University (AdMU), University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman,  De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB), and Adamson University (AdU) are already being utilized as temporary isolation facilities to augment the shortage brought about by the surge of COVID-19 in NCR.

The conversion of school buildings into isolation facilities was recently approved by the Department of Education (DepEd) under certain conditions that the schools will be used as last resort and shall follow the requirements of the DOH and interagency task force.

Modular hospitals

In order for hospitals not to be overwhelmed by new confirmed cases, modular hospitals were built to serve as an “extension” to accommodate more COVID-19 patients.   

There are currently 15 modular hospital units with 516 beds nationwide.

These are located in the Quezon Institute Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, Dr. Jose Rodriguez Hospital, and Batangas Medical Center.

These modular hospitals are equipped with copper tubes for oxygen and tanks, separate nursing station, equipment laboratory, pantry, storage, CCTV lines, and monitoring board.

Build more

More quarantine facilities and modular hospitals will be built to keep up with the spike of new cases, Villar said.

“Marami po kaming naka-line up na quarantine facilities at modular hospitals. So tataas din ang capacity natin. At kahit na tumaas iyong rate ng COVID, magtatayo pa rin kami ng maraming facilities over the next months (We have a lot of quarantine facilities and modular hospitals lined up for construction. So, our capacity will increase. And even if our COVID rate goes up, we will continue to build more facilities over the next months),” the secretary said.   

By the end of April, the agency aims to bring the constructed quarantine facilities nationwide to 724.

The department is also looking to add 104 more rooms to the existing modular hospitals by the end of April and another 200 rooms by May.

“So we will continue to identify new areas and within the month and next month we will see a very significant increase in our hospital and ICU (intensive care unit) capacity,” Villar said. (With reports from Dhel Nazario, Jel Santos, Joseph Pedrajas, and Minka Tiangco)