NEARLY 900 employees of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City have recently been infected with the Covid-19 virus, affecting the hospital’s capabilities to serve clients.

SPMC Chief Dr. Ricardo Audan told SunStar Davao in a phone interview on Friday, January 28, that they are lacking manpower after 891 of their employees, especially those responding to Covid-19 patients, also tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 amid the ongoing Covid-19 surge.

Out of the 891, Audan said 544 are confirmed while the remaining 248 are still suspected and still waiting for test results.

Also included in the data were 94 workers who were exposed to Covid-19 patients. Among the 94 were two who had a travel history to Manila and four that were deployed to assist in a medical mission in Dinagat Island.

He said all 891 are fully vaccinated, while the majority of them had already received their booster shots.

The hospital official said the majority of their employees experienced mild symptoms such as fever and cough. The majority of them were also placed under home quarantine, while 30 staff members were admitted to hospitals.

Audan said they noticed the surge in cases among SPMC employees on January 15 when a majority of their employees tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 during the two-week routine swab. Some of those who were swabbed were already manifesting Covid-19 symptoms before being tested.

The surge in cases among employees also coincided with the increasing cases in the city, he said.

He suspected this had to do with the emergence of the Omicron variant, considering there were already 15 confirmed specimens detected in the entire Davao Region as of January 27, according to the Department of Health.

“Mas grabe ang Omicron, mas paspas ang transmission kumpara sa Delta [variant]. Sa Delta, wala kaabot 200 [employees] ang na-infect, as compared to the Omicron nga 891. Hapit nami muabot og 1,000. Ing-ana kapaspas,” Audan said.

(Omicron has shown to be more contagious than the Delta variant. Only less than 200 employees were detected to be infected with the Delta variant previously, as compared to the Omicron wherein it is at 891. We are nearing 1,000. That’s how contagious it is.)

Although he said that Omicron, compared to Delta, is a weaker variant, resulting in mild symptoms only. He added the Covid-19 vaccines had contributed to the protection of their staff.

To answer the shortage of staff, he said SPMC has adopted but shortened the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) guidelines, wherein instead of seven days, fully vaccinated workers who are asymptomatic will only undergo quarantine for five days.

Audan said they are expecting that some of their staff would return to their duties after the weekend.

Meanwhile, Audan reiterated his appeal to the public to refer to other hospitals for non-emergency cases. He said the hospital will only cater to non-Covid-19 emergency cases because SPMC is already overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. SPMC already announced this a week ago. SPMC will only cater to moderate to severe Covid-19 patients.

Based on the January 26 data, both its 87-bed intensive care unit and 455 ward beds are 100 percent occupied following the influx of Covid-19 patients.

“Actually daghan mi pwede ma-expand, wala lang gyud mi staff (We can actually expand but we lack the staff needed),” he said.

Audan said 85 percent of their Covid-19 patients are unvaccinated. Of the five recently recorded deaths, four of them are unvaccinated, while one is fully vaccinated but still succumbed to the virus due to multiple comorbidities. On average, most of these patients are senior citizens.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio announced on Monday, January 24, that private hospitals had already started catering to Covid-19 patients due to the influx of admission at SPMC.

Covid-19 Task Force Spokesperson Dr. Michelle Schlosser said in an interview on 87.5 FM Davao City Disaster Radio that the City had permitted home isolation in response to the overwhelming occupancy of the city’s temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMF) and hospital facilities.

Schlosser said the City immediately integrated the assistance of private hospitals in admitting patients due to SPMC’s status.

She added that even the city’s healthcare workers in the swab sites and vaccination hubs are also testing positive from the virus.

“Our healthcare workers, not just in SPMC, but all other healthcare workers, whether sa (at) CHO [City Health Office] or private hospitals, affected gyud atong healthcare workers (our healthcare workers are highly affected). We are trying to compensate [for] the loss of manpower,” Schlosser said, adding that they are hoping the increasing number of positive workers won’t hamper the city’s Covid-19 response.