THE Department of Health (DoH) has ordered the designation of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) in Manila and the Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan as exclusive coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hospitals, following the appeal of private hospitals for a unified approach to the pandemic.

“The Department of Health and University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital have initiated talks to designate UP-PGH as one of the COVID-19 referral hospitals for NCR. Preparations are being made to equip the Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium, previously Tala Leprosarium to become another referral hospital,” it said in a statement on Friday.

To free up wards and rooms, UP-PGH has ceased the admission of non-emergency cases, the DoH added.

The DoH said it will require the full support of the National Capital Region (NCR) medical community “since additional health care workers will be needed to complement PGH’s existing workforce.”

“The DoH is one with the entire nation in recognizing the many sacrifices health workers have already made and will continue to make, including those in PGH. We are working hard to ensure that health workers will be protected while caring for their patients,” it added.

In a radio interview on Friday, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said that the government was considering converting the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) into a COVID-19 exclusive hospital, but added that it is not feasible just yet because the hospital also caters to lung cancer patients.

As a compromise, the DoH said that the LCP has dedicated one wing with 40 beds for COVID-19 patients.

On March 19, private hospitals issued a joint appeal for a unified approach on the pandemic, calling on the government to “centralize all efforts and resources into one or two COVID-19 hospitals.”

They argued that there is “an alarming number” of health workers already under 14-day quarantine, while the number of persons under investigation (PUIs) continues to increase.

“With the COVID-19 hospital(s) in place, the other institutions can then focus on the bigger population who need to be treated for the rest of the other conditions other than the COVID-19 infection. They are the ones we need to equally protect and secure from the virus, so that they and their families can also be assured of appropriate treatment detached from any threat of COVID-19 infection aggravating their condition,” part of the joint statement read.

Meanwhile, the Health Secretary said that barangays have the option to turn classrooms into isolation rooms to make sure that COVID-19 positive cases are isolated from the rest of the population.

So ‘yung mga isolation rooms ‘yan po tutugunan ng ating barangay health emergency response teams para nakatutok na, tukoy na kung saan ilalagay ang mga isolation rooms. At isa nga rito ang mga eskwelehan, ang mga kwarto ng eskwelahan na icoconvert nila ‘yan into isolation rooms with two meters apart between beds para hindi naman ho maging uncomfortable ‘yung kanilang kalagayan,” Mr. Duque said. (So these isolation rooms, these will be acted upon by our emergency response teams so they can already know where these could possibly be. Like school rooms, they can convert the school rooms into isolation rooms with two meters apart between beds so it is not uncomfortable.)

He said that allowing barangays to convert classrooms into isolation rooms is one option to quarantine mild and moderate cases. Currently, the hospitals’ protocol is to prioritize severe to critical cases due to the lack of confinement rooms and testing kits.

In the Malacañang briefing on Friday, DoH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already approved four kinds of test kits which are available for commercial use.

However, Ms. Vergeire cautioned the public that although the test kits were approved for commercial use, they may only be used in hospitals and laboratories.

“We need a molecular biology laboratory para gamitin po ang mga (to use these) testing kits na ito. Hindi po ito basta nabibili sa mga supermart o sa drugstore at gagamitin sa bahay. Kailangan pa rin ho sa ospital gamitin ito. Ang kagandahan po nito, ay mas marami na pong mga ospital ang maaring makagawa ng testing dito sa ating bansa,” she said. (These cannot simply be bought in a supermarket or drugstore and used in the home. They still have to be used in a hospital. The good thing about this is that there will be more hospitals in the country which will be able to test [for COVID-19].)

Ms. Vergeire added that a total of 1,170 patients nationwide have been tested for COVID-19.

In the radio interview, Mr. Duque said that the DoH is awaiting the arrival of 25,000 test kits from South Korea and 100,000 testing kits from China on March 21.

Tinutukan ko na ’yung Bureau of Customs (BoC) at FDA ay mabilisan ang release kasi ‘yan nga ang number one natin na kakulangan, inadequate testing capacity,” he added. (The Bureau of Customs and FDA are already on it, and the release will be fast because that is our number one lack, we have inadequate testing capacity.)

Meanwhile, on March 19, the Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation pledged donations of medical supplies to four Southeast Asian countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

“We and Alibaba Foundation will send 2 million masks, 150,000 test kits, 20,000 protective suits and 20,000 face shields to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. More help to other Asian nations is on the way!”read part of the statement which was sent on Friday.

As of March 20, the Philippines has reported a total of 230 positive COVID-19 cases of which 18 have already died. Eight patients, however, were able to recover. — Genshen L. Espedido