The Ospital ng Palawan (ONP) has asked the Department of Health (DOH) for additional supplies to keep its GeneXpert COVID-19 laboratory running, as local health authorities began ramping up tests to contain a potential spread of the virus due to local transmission.

Dr. Audie Cipriano, chief of the medical professional staff of the ONP, said during an online press briefing Tuesday that ONP’s cartridges used by its GenExpert testing machine are running out because of their expanded testing efforts.

“Less than 500 cartridges and enough pa naman, for now, sa ginagawang contact tracing doon sa may direct exposure with other patients,” Dr. Cipriano said.

The ONP has so far isolated three of its health personnel who had tested positive for COVID-19, in what officials admitted to being possible cases of local transmission.

The hospital, which is the province’s designated main COVID-19 facility, has been forced to scale down its operation for several days this week as over 20 of its personnel had to be quarantined following contact tracing protocols.

“Our complex is closed due to the fact that we are de-contaminating the area. At the moment, the three positive results are in the city isolation areas,” Dr. Cipriano said.

Dr. Mario Baquilod, regional director of MIMAROPA, assured the ONP the regional health office will send replenishment and augmentation of other medical supplies needed by the Palawan’s primary COVID-19 facility.

“National allotted around 4,000 cartridges for the region. Ito ay on the process and will be sent in the following weeks,” Baquilod said.

The Center for Health Department (CHD-MIMAROPA) also ensured the full implementation of “expanded testing” for healthcare workers with no symptoms but have a relevant history of contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients shall be tested to protect them, including their families.

“Our health care workers, being in the front line in our battle against this virus, are in dire need of our support so let us continue to pray for their immediate recovery. These COVID-19 heroes don’t deserve any form of discrimination, if not for their dedication and sacrifice, we will never succeed in fighting this pandemic,” Dr. Baquilod said.

Baquilod also added that temporary housing facilities were already prepared for the expected surge of local stranded and overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

“We have identified facilities once magkaroon ng surge of arrivals. Mayroon ding temporary treatment and management facility (TTMF) para sa ating mga LSIs and repatriates. We will observe for the next 14 days mahirap namang sabihin na well prepared, mayroon naman tayong mga plans,” Baquilod said.

The city government of Puerto Princesa has pledged to provide quarantine facility for personnel after certain ONP healthcare workers have previously raised concern on being mostly directed to do self-quarantine within their own residence that poses risks to their relatives.

“Ang city daw ang magpo-provide ng quarantine facility for nurses and doctors. Nangako na sila this morning na ang city na ang mag-handle ng gastos, mga 30 to 40 sila,” Dr. Cipriano added.

Dr. Baquilod said that the regional inter-agency task force (IATF) for emerging infectious disease (EID) has yet to decide whether or not the city or province may be placed on lockdown after a spike in COVID-19 positive cases were observed last week.

“Regional IATF ang magde-desisyon for the province or city,” Baquilod said when asked to comment on certain speculations that circulated online.

The ONP and CHD-MIMAROPA ensured that the minimum public health standards were being observed and all hospital personnel and staff are strictly following infection prevention and control protocols such as wearing the complete set of personal protective equipment (PPE) while they are accompanying patients.

The regional health office also emphasized the importance of quarantine protocols and adherence to the policies being implemented by the DOH and local government units as more locally stranded individuals (LSIs) return to MIMAROPA provinces.

(With a report from Jeshyl Guiroy)