Missy told me she was scared.
She’s on her duty shift again in the only COVID-19 hospital in the province. Apart from the fact that she will not be able to go home and spend time with her family while she is on duty, because together with her co-workers they will be billeted at a nearby hotel, she’s worried that she’d get the virus. She and her family live with her parents, both senior citizens. She also has a 5-year old daughter.
For fourteen days, she will be in this kind of situation. Then she’d be on 14 days quarantine before going home. She told me she already missed her husband and her kids. She’s still on her fourth day of duty at the COVID ward.
Missy is just one of the many who are facing the invisible threat of COVID-19 on a daily basis. Sadly, they are also part of those underpaid, and oftentimes unappreciated health care workers not only in the province of Bohol, but across the country. Based on most recent statistics, nurses are paid Php30 thousand a month (or less than 650 USD). They are receiving hazard pay, yes, pegged at Php5,000 monthly (100 USD), not even enough to pay for COVID expenses when they will, God forbid, contract the virus.
I am writing about Missy (not her real name, and not her real circumstances to protect her identity) because I felt that she and her co-workers are the most underappreciated people in this fight against COVID19. Policy-makers can make all the policies they want, including reopening the economy and accepting tourists, but the voices of Missy and her colleagues remain unheard.
Missy and her colleagues are of the opinion that any rise in COVID-19 cases will take a toll on health care workers. “We all know that the province’s health care system is not ready for any surge in cases”, she said. “For sure, we are the ones who will be sacrificed”, she added.
She has a point. Among the many deaths recorded in this country caused by COVID-19, a handful come from the frontlines. As of 16 November 2020, 3% of all confirmed cases are health care workers. This is equal to around 11,805 medical personnel. Of these, 72 people have already died.
This fight against COVID-19 is not only of Missy’s and her colleagues, it is also ours. Whenever I see people not wearing face masks, I am angered. I am angered not only because of the failure to obey simple rules, but also of the inconsiderate disregard of the sacrifices that other people do to test, trace, and treat COVID-19 patients. Whenever I go to restaurants, churches, and other public places, I call the attention of management to the failure to enforce protocols upon entry. Whenever I get invited to public gatherings, I turn them down, because gatherings, even among friends and family, are high risk occasions for transmission.
This is the reason why I feel conflicted with the current drive to welcome tourists to Bohol. I felt conflicted because the tourism sector is bleeding, and many workers have lost jobs; but at the same time, I know that our health care system is not prepared to handle a steep increase in COVID cases. The long months of community quarantine could have prepared us for this, but I am not sure that we were able to take advantage of those times to do so. Yes, we have testing capacity, but we don’t have an increase in bed and treatment capacity in hospitals. Our health care workers are purportedly overworked and overstretched.
Recently, there have been a heated debate on why tourists can come to Bohol with less stringent measures than returning local residents. There was also frustration of several people on what was initially reported as a decision of the city government of Tagbilaran to suspend the acceptance of returning residents during the Christmas break to allow rest to frontliners (which was later clarified to be untrue).
I can perfectly understand why there is public uproar against these measures. All of us are tired of these lockdowns, quarantines, and mobility restrictions. But (God forbid) if there is widespread local transmission, several of us, especially the privileged ones, can retreat to the comforts of our homes. Healthcare workers like Missy don’t have that choice. For some of them, it’s their source of livelihood. For others, it is the commitment of their chosen profession that they want to uphold and honour, regardless of whether or not this government values their commitment by paying them well.
As I write this, Tagbilaran has a total of 26 active cases. This is the first time that this number has gotten this far. Based on recent reports, active cases are proof of local transmission.
If we respect and honour our health care workers, we cannot, and should not, relax our guards.
Image credits: SCMP