File image from istockphoto.com

The dreaded Delta variant’s presence in Palawan has been confirmed, after the city’s Incident Management Team (IMT) announced Monday the official confirmation of test results from the genome testing laboratory in Manila.

At least two sample virus specimens sent by Puerto Princesa City to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) have been confirmed to be Delta variant, according to IMT head Dr. Dean Palanca.

The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is considered to be the most potent given its ability to spread faster. City officials have long suspected it to be the cause of the current surge in the capital, including outlying towns.

Dr. Palanca said the findings validated early suspicions that the most aggressive variant was behind the recent wave of COVID-19 infections.

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“Delta variant ang nanalasa sa Puerto Princesa, maging sa mga munisipyo. I think sa munisipyo meron din yatang nag-positive din sa kanila. Itong mga resulta na ito, itong mga sintomas na ito, at napakabilis yong hawaan ay [they] point to the Delta variant,” Dr. Palanca said.

“Meron na tayong confirmation nyan. Ito parang formality na lang ito sa amin. Alam namin na Delta variant na ito dahil sa kanyang mga characteristics,” he added.

Delta variant cases
Dr. Palanca explained that the Delta variant was confirmed in two female patients who have now recovered from the illness and are completely vaccinated.

The first patient, a 38-year-old female, was a national government official who was traveling as an authorized person outside of his or her own country (APOR). In late August, she tested positive for COVID-19. She was first antigen-tested positive who refused to believe her result.

The second patient, a 25-year-old local case, is a Barangay San Manuel resident who tested positive in September. She was allegedly infected by a male relative who died with COVID-19. It is yet unclear if the deceased patient had the Delta variant as well.

“Yong symptoms ni APOR, mild lang siya talaga,” said Dr. Eunice Herrera of the IMT. “Yong si local [case], hindi kami gaanong nagsu-suspect, pero noong dumadami na sila talaga sa family, na buong compound is affected na, doon na kami talaga nagduda na, okay, mukhang Delta na Delta na talaga ito kasi how come na naubos na yong buong family”.

She said the family’s index patient died, which tells them the variant he has was contagious. They were symptomatic and were handled in two facilities.

“’Yong second patient, mayroon siyang 14 close contacts. Isang compound sila, mga magkakamag-anak sila. Lahat sila nag-positive. At hindi pa namin ma-identify kung saan siya nahawa, dahil ang mga kamag-anak niya ay may mga kanya-kanyang trabaho,” Dr. Palanca said.

He said the speed of infection was fast and only took seven days. “Hindi ito masyadong nangyayari sa una nating kaso noong tayo ay nagkaroon ng first outbreak natin nitong May, June, or July. Hindi ganyan kabilis po yan, pero ito in a matter of seven days,” he added.

Currently, he said they treat all patients as Delta variant cases.

Signs of COVID-19 cases plateauing 
Following a continuous increase, the number of cases seems to be leveling off, according to Dr. Palanca.

“Biglang pataas ng pataas nitong September, pagdating ng mga first week or second week, biglang taas na siya. Siguro pagtapos noong August, papasok na tayo sa Delta variant, at nitong September talagang binulaga na tayo,” he said.

“Yong case natin ngayon nasa 1,000 — maaaring nagpa-plateau po tayo. Kasi ang ini-expect namin aabot tayo ng mga 3,000 yong ating active case kung sakaling magpe-peak pa tayo. Pero right now, hindi po siya taas ng taas kung hindi, parang maaari na naabot na natin yong peak natin. Hopefully, sana nagpla-plateau na tayo kasi ilang testing days na rin na hindi ganoon kataas ang mga kaso,” he added, citing cases might even go down further towards the end of the month of October.

Despite this, Dr. Palanca cautioned that they anticipate more cases to emerge and more people to die, particularly those who have not had their anti-COVID vaccines.

Residents, according to Dr. Palanca, should continue to wear surgical masks and stay a safe distance from those who do not. Unvaccinated people should get their immunizations as soon as possible since they may help prevent them from contracting the virus.

“Marami pa rin talagang mamatay ngayong month, hanggang next month, lalo na yong mga walang bakuna,” he said.

Facilities overwhelmed, outbreak plan to be activated
As of the City Epidemiology Surveillance Unit’s (CESU) latest tally, there are a total of 1,087 active cases in Puerto Princesa. The number of patients continues to overwhelm the city’s healthcare facilities, both hospitals and hotels converted into quarantine facilities.

Dr. Herrra explained that mild patients are being sent home to make way for severe cases in hospitals and COVID facilities.

Because there are too many patients to cope with as of the moment, even the city’s quarantine facilities have converted to TTMF, or Temporary Treatment and Management Facilities, she said.

“Makikita ninyo na tumataas ang cases natin, napupuno na naman ang bed capacity. In short, ‘yong ibang patients natin ay nasa bahay na talaga. Nilalagay muna sa facility, iche-check, bibigyan ng gamot, eventually, pag mild na, tine-test yan bago pauwiin,” Dr. Herrera said.

“Baka nga mas marami pa kaming pasyente kesa sa mga ospital. Nakita niyo naman siguro yong figure nila doon, di ba? Pero kami, for example, dito sa Sunlight kung nasaan ako ngayon, mga 20 plus ang aking mga naka-IV, naka-suwero,” she said.

A chart presented by IMT officials showed that the Ospital ng Palawan has reached 100% capacity. The MMG-Cooperative Hospital is at 73% capacity, while the Adventist Hospital Palawan (AHP) is at 50% capacity.

However, the AHP’s ICU beds are all out of service.

“May mga kababayan tayo na may kakayahan ngang magbayad, pero hindi naman sila kayang ma-accommodate. Wala nang bed na available for private hospitals. Sa dating surge, hindi pa napupuno ang mga emergency room, ngayon punong-puno na,” Herrera added.

City Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) spokesperson Atty. Norman Yap also stated in the briefing that the city government will be activating the Delta Variant Outbreak Plan (DVOP). This includes activating barangay decontamination teams, setting up public school buildings as additional quarantine facilities, ramping up vaccination efforts, and mobilizing testing booths and satellite clinics all over the city.

Yap also stated that they are finalizing measures to vaccinate minors as well. He added that the city’s general community quarantine (GCQ) classification will remain in place until further notice because the city IATF will no longer request for an upgrade.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.