We got this


Former Senate President Manny Villar

As I write this piece, the Department of Health (DOH) has just reported 33,160 new COVID-19 cases as part of this surge in coronavirus infections that we are currently experiencing. This Jan. 11 number is the highest ever since we started recording this type of data. This is a staggering number given the fact that this number was around 800-900 just about 12 days prior. This omicron variant means business. And experts predict that the number of daily cases will probably peak at 30,000 to 40,000 by end of January or early February.

As frightening as these number are, it is important for us to go beyond the shock value of these daily bulletins of numbers and look deeper at the DOH reports. The total number of active cases in the whole country currently stands at 102,017. Of that number 97,406 or 95.5 percent are classified as asymptomatic and mild. Now, I think it is imperative that we clarify what is meant by mild COVID.

The National Institutes of Health — the medical research agency of the US — provided a very useful definition in this regard. It defined mild illness as having “the various signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, malaise, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell) but who do not have shortness of breath, dyspnea, or abnormal chest imaging.” And while this definition is useful to describe these types of cases, the term mild might be very subjective.

After the holidays, the main subject of “kwentuhans” and “kamustahans” among friends is how sick they got after the New Year’s celebration. Instead of “kamusta ang New Year mo?,” and, “Ano mga handa ninyo?,” people asked, “May sakit ka ba?,” or, “Ilan ang positive sa inyo?” I have heard stories of friends and employees who had chills and fever, excruciating body pain, nausea, and cough. Some told me they could hardly move. This is definitely not a “mild illness” to these people. We do not want to minimize the suffering of COVID-stricken people. So the term mild is probably just intended to mean that the coronavirus infection did not make people sick enough to go to the hospital.

This is reflected in the DOH data. Despite record highs in daily infection rate, the utilization rate of ICU beds is at 34 percent nationally and 51 percent in the National Capital Region (NCR), the latter being the epicenter of the current surge. But this metric, while useful, is not enough. We also need to look at the condition of our health care workers. A number of them have been infected and require isolation or quarantine, and as a result a number of hospitals are understaffed.

This is the reason why, long before this omicron surge, I urged government to strengthen our health care system, specifically by increasing ICU beds and providing more robust support to health professionals and workers. We know that omicron will not be the last coronavirus variant. And we definitely know that this will not be the last pandemic we will experience. A huge part of being able to “live with COVID” is strengthening our ability to manage surges in infection from time to time.

Beneath the shocking increase in daily COVID cases is the notion that more and more people are getting “mild COVID” that do not require hospitalization. But a word of caution — coronavirus infections still send people to hospitals, and sadly, death is still a possibility. The delta variant, which is more fatal, is still around after all. This means more pressure on our already exhausted frontliners. We still need to be extra careful when we go out — wear your masks, keep a safe distance and wash your hands often.

A combination of government action and a sense of personal responsibility is required during these times. Government should ramp up its vaccination program to make sure that those unvaccinated get the protection they need, and its booster campaign to make sure that those who are fully vaccinated get the extra protection they need to fight omicron.

If you are experiencing symptoms or came in close contact with someone who tested positive, stay at home and get tested. If you do go out follow strictly all health protocols. We got this. All of us, working together.