We should look at the facts when we deal with COVID-19. HR Managers should be that source of calm in the tumultuous pandemic. Especially now there is a crisis, we should be well informed on the invisible enemy we are facing, and how we should react when one of our employees become COVID-19 positive.
At almost 120,000 confirmed cases, having an employee being COVID-19 positive is merely a matter of time. With around 50,000 of active cases running around, there is a high chance that a neighbor, friend, family member, or colleague will have it.
The biggest enemy of the Philippines is NOT COVID-19. Yes, COVID-19 is lethal and is an invisible enemy that’s hard to beat. But in my opinion, the REAL enemy of the Philippines right now is FEAR.
Fear is like the boogeyman that makes us afraid of losing our loved ones, and makes us act irrationally.
Here is the flow of this blog post for easier reference:
- How Can Basic Math Help Us and Our Staff Be Less Anxious of COVID-19
- Why testing does not give me comfort, and why the basics — wear face masks, wash hands, keep social distancing and home quarantine — will protect us more?
- For critical patients, where can we call to find a hospital or quarantine center?
- Who Again Pays for the Rapid and Swab Testing?
- What if I am WFH and exhibited symptoms of COVID-19? Who shoulders the testing? How much liability will the company cover?
- What are my options of getting paid while on home quarantine?
- Is there a need for re-testing after the strict 14 day home quarantine?
- If you are on Forced Leave again during MECQ, what should we do?
1. How Can Basic Math Help Us and Our Staff Be Less Anxious of COVID-19?
How Many COVID-19 Positive People Are There Running Around?
As of August 7, there are 122,754 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines. A lot of people have been hawking that this number is high, which is true. The Philippines is now the 22nd highest of people who became COVID-19 positive in the world, and this is bad. This means that the Philippines did not successfully CONTAIN the pandemic, unlike our neighbors Vietnam, Taiwan and China.
However, it does annoy me a bit that we count the number of total cases whenever we talk about COVID-19. As of August 7, there are not 122,754 running around with COVID-19. This is untrue. The Total cases are that high, but half of them have already recovered and COVID-19 free. Specifically, while 122,754 is the number of confirmed cases of people who got infected with COVID-19, 55% of this number has recovered, leaving 53,734 still active.
We need to understand the numbers so we can calm ourselves and our people down.
As HR, we need to understand the numbers so we can calm the heck down. Of all people in an organization, it is the HR that has to be the person of zen. To do that, we need to understand the numbers and not rely much on clickbait. In the end, it’s just a matter of basic math and percentages as follows:
Active Cases as of Aug 7 – Asymptomatic Cases: 3,949 (7.35% of active)
Add: Active Cases as of Aug 7 – MILD Cases: 49,105 (85.1% of active)
Total Asymptomatic & Mild: 53,054 (98.7% of active cases)
Add: Active Cases as of Aug 7 – Severe Cases: 396 (0.74% of active)
Total Active Cases as of Aug 7 – 53,734 (43.8% of total cases)
Plus: 2,168 Deaths (1.77% of total)
Plus: 66,852 Recovered (54.5% of total confirmed cases)
TOTAL: 122,754 total confirmed cases
As of August 7, there there are around 54,000 Filipinos who are still COVID-19 positive and are either hospitalized, at home, or running around. 55% have recovered, and this is not bad news. 45% is still active. And in most of our active cases, 98.7% are either asymptomatic or mild, which is good news.
Yes, we have to be careful.
Yes, COVID-19 is a lethal disease and 15% of the senior citizens who get it will die. We should not act foolish and stop wearing our masks, washing our hands and keeping our social distancing. But understanding the numbers and the type of panic COVID-19 has created will help in calming our staff down.
Understand and explain the numbers to our staff to calm them down.
DO NOT JUST FOCUS ON THE TOTAL CASES, as this will only stress you out and is not really the number we should look at:
Source: Department of Health, August 8, 2020
Instead, focus on the breakdown, which shows the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country.
And if you’re still afraid, do know this, if the total confirmed cases are still under-declared because there’s so many asymptomatic Filipinos who have the disease and are not tested and declared, this is still my source of comfort because it just shows that while COVID-19 has widely infected NCR, Filipinos have shown some resilience to the disease and are NOT dying off like flies.
Not dying is good, and our death rate of 1.76% (Higher since there’s so many positive cases that are NOT accounted for) is better than global average.
Do I think the death rates are under-declared then?
While I think the Total Rates may be under-declared, Deaths are most likely not as inflated. Late in reporting, yes. But the dead bodies can’t be hidden in the ditch no matter how hard you try.
Because it’s not easy to hide dead bodies and it takes a few hours just to cremate one body. Hindi madali sunugin or taguin ang bangkay, unless there are mass graves I do not know about. Even so, the stench will give them away. This is a mass burial in Japan during one of the big calamities. No, dead bodies are not easy to hide:
Besides, Philippines is too big as a democracy to hide a death by COVID-19 conspiracy. Sigurado, this will be the biggest conspiracy of the year since the Philhealth scandal started. Nope, just nope. You can’t hide a thousand dead bodies in the Philippines and get away with it. Not with the number of social media warriors on both sides of the fence.
2. Why testing gives me little comfort, and why the basics — wear face masks, wash hands, keep social distancing and home quarantine — will protect us more?
Testing does not give me much comfort because testing by its very nature is imperfect.
Even the RT-PCR Swab test, allegedly the golden standard in COVID-19 testing, will give inaccurate answers if done too early. No matter which test you use, there are different levels of inaccuracy. If you get infected by COVID-19 today, you will test NEGATIVE within the first 3 days of infection with both the Swab and Rapid Test.
Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana explains this succinctly on his Facebook post last July 21, 2020. Dr. Salvana is a member of the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) technical advisory group. My answer in this question is based on his post.
According to Dr. Salvana, these are the approximate results of tests if you are infected of COVID-19, assuming an average 5-day incubation period before the onset of symptoms:
What does this table mean for HR and Businesses?
a. Tests are really imperfect and there will always be asymptomatic carriers that WILL BE MISSED.
I can attest to this as the factory I talked about last time tested negative on rapid test, but was apparently positive and asymptomatic when tested with swab test. Whoops!
b. Quarantine and isolation are super helpful in ensuring the contagiousness and spread of COVID-19 is stopped.
Even if you are a false positive or a real positive, isolating yourself from family members and colleagues will STOP the spread of virus.
c. If your employee has SYMPTOMS, test with the RT-PCR and isolate IMMEDIATELY while waiting for the results.
Disinfect the workplace immediately. This is where the IATF based the rule of putting both the suspected COVID-19+ worker and the OTHER WORKERS PRESENT with the suspected COVID-19 on home quarantine:
This is because once the symptoms come out, COVID-19 is usually at its peak of infectiousness! So naghahawaan na sa companya once the symptoms come out.
That’s why, we must assume that everyone is COVID-19 positive and wear our face masks, wash our hands and respect social distance. Prevention is better than the cure talaga.
NOTE: Antigen tests are still being validated and performance characteristics may still change.
Rapid tests are NOT as useful when a patient is already sick because it is still usually negative early in disease. Usually, it will only come out positive at the 14th day once there’s enough number of antibodies.
d. If a symptomatic patient tests negative, a doctor still needs to decide whether a repeat testing is needed and if a patient needs to complete isolation regardless of the test result.
Kasi nga, there’s still a 38% chance of false negatives on RT-PCR and 100% chance on rapid testin by Day 5 on infection (Or Day 1 on symptoms).
e. All staff with the suspected patient must now undergo home quarantine.
Any tests is not advisable at this point because it takes at least 4 days to get enough virus to test positive on the RT-PCR. For the first three days of exposure, close contacts are also not likely to be infectious but can already be quarantined until it can be ascertained that the index symptomatic patient was negative or positive. If the index patient is positive, then there are two options:
Option 1: Test everyone else with the suspected patient on their 5th day of exposure. If negative, the physician can prescribe they return to work, or complete 14 days of quarantine. If he/she becomes symptomatic, repeat RT-PCR should be done, OR
Option 2: Just to be safe, put everyone in strict home quarantine. Wala nang testing testing. Basta isolate at home na lang. Mas tipid, mas practical AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, mas safe for everyone.
Basta, the co-workers truly isolates in their quarantines. Walang pa-rebond ng buhok or pa-birthday birthday pa.
f. The problem is, most Filipinos do NOT understand what home quarantine means.
Pag pinauwi because you were present with the suspected COVID-19 worker, nakikipag hug hug pa sa jowa and kapamilya. Home quarantine means to isolate at home, in your own room with hopefully your own toilet, AWAY FROM THE FAMILY.
g. For your family members who are called “second generation close contacts” — meaning they have come in close contact with the home quarantining co-worker of the suspected home quarantine employee, there is NO NEED for testing unless the co-worker develops symptoms or tests positive.
If so, follow Step B — Isolate and quarantine.
h. The biggest chance of infection are those family members who still can’t help but touch and interact with a positive COVID-19 case.
Those who are easily infected are those who are:
- Household contacts or kasama sa bahay — Mask ka ng mask, pero pag dating sa bahay, tinatanggal mo ang mask mo! Mahawa kabahay mo!
- Those you share close physical contact with — Calling all jowa or asawa
- Those you interact at least 15 minutes with without the 1 meter distance
- Direct patient care with inadequate PPE — That’s why many health workers get infected
- If you spent over 2 hours in the same enclosed space with inadequate ventilation — Kaya maraming BPO ang nagpopositive, lalo na if you share headsets
3. For critical patients, where can we call to find a hospital or quarantine center?
For mild or asymptomatic cases, the status quo is usually to stay at home and do home quarantine. For the critical patients, they are usually sent to the hospital/quarantine center/isolation centers.
The great news is, the DOH, IATF, DILG, DOT, MMDA, and BCDA has officially launched the One Hospital Command Center (OHCC) last August 6, 2020 at the MMDA Arena, Makati City. The OHCC is supposed to monitor the capacity of healthcare facilities to handle COVID-19 patients, and assist infected persons who need help in finding a hospital or an isolation facility. People can access the One Hospital Command Center via:
- Downloading the free Pure Force Citizens app from Google Play and App Store for free,
- Call its dedicated lines: 02-886-505-00, 0915-777-7777 and 0919-977-3333
- Through Quick Response (QR) codes that the public can scan.
In anticipation of the large volume of calls and referrals, the center will be powered by an off-site call-taking and dispatch company that will enable OHCC staff to focus on directing and coordinating COVID-19 case referrals. All details gathered during the call will then be uploaded to a dispatch system that will automatically prompt OHCC coordinators from various agencies that a new case needs to be handled.
Using the DOH dashboards and protocols, the coordinators will identify the proper health facility where the case will be referred. Once identified, the coordinator will then call the receiving facility, update the dispatch system, and provide feedback to the referring facility or patient.
For emergency cases, the call taker, together with the OHCC coordinators will simultaneously coordinate with the receiving facility and provide pre-arrival instructions.
4. Who Again Pays for the Rapid and Swab Testing?
Again, testing is NOT mandatory. Hindi kailangan. So if the company requires, company should pay. If company does not require, you don’t need to take it.
If your family member gets COVID-19, you cannot charge this to your company. It is only your test that can be charged, but only if company requires the testing.
If it is only you who want to be tested, you need to pay for it, not the company.
So company can test everyone, or just the suspected patient who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and send everybody else home with instructions to do strict home quarantine until the suspected COVID-19 patient results are released.
Can you report the company if the company does not regularly test everyone every 2 weeks, saying that they are not compliant of DOLE DTI Health Guidelines?
Yes you can, but the company will NOT get in trouble with DOLE, kasi nga, testing is NOT required.
So long as they are following the DOLE DTI Health Guidelinse, they can operate, even if the company does not test their staff every 2 weeks.
And besides, did you read what I just wrote in #2? Hindi nga reliable ang testing. It is just a placebo effect to make you feel better. Kahit na negative ka, pwede ka pa ding maging positive, or vice-versa, regardless on what test you ues.
That’s why you need to wear your mask, keep social distancing, wash your hands and pray to God.
5. What if I am WFH and exhibited symptoms of COVID-19? Who shoulders the testing? How much liability will the company cover?
Let’s be very clear, WFH or not, Company is not liable if they have done their job in enrolling the employee into SSS and Philhealth, as per Labor Advisory No. 4, Series of 2020:
If you are WFH and naging positive ka pa ng COVID-19, the better question is, how the heck did that happen?
Photo Source: Eternus Global
The very essence on why WFH is done by many companies is to help the government curb the spread of COVID-19, help you and your family stay COVID-19 free, and to make sure there won’t be any issues of people infecting each other and shutting down the entire operations.
If you are WFH and got COVID-19, you got COVID-19 when you went out on your personal capacity, hugged your family members who were COVID-19 positive, and (insert reason here that was not work related).
If hindi ka nag-ingat and nahawa pa ng COVID-19 kahit na WFH, paano na kaya noon?
Regardless, the same rules apply — Company does NOT need to require COVID-19 testing.
Hence, if a staff informs you that they may exhibit COVID-19 symptoms while working from home, please coordinate and contact the local barangay (Many Filipino barangays have a Facebook page) to report so that the local barangay can stand watch over the household.
Some barangays even offer hatid-sundo service for free swab testing. You just have to wait for a schedule, and they will ensure you get tested for free. Duration of release of results may vary from 5 days to 14 days, depending on the locality.
If they are asymptomatic or the symptoms are mild, the COVID-19 patient is usually asked to stay at home in isolation. Since they are already WFH, this is status quo.
The only difference is if they work or not? If they work, they get paid. If not, they don’t. They may avail of SSS Sickness Benefits if they are truly sick and have enough hulogs.
If the case is critical/serious, you may call the following DOH Hotline to find the closest available hospital or COVID-19 isolation facility. This One Hospital Command Center is 24/7 to assist you of any COVID-19 related concerns:
6. What are my options of getting paid while on home quarantine?
Not from the Employer who is not legally obliged to pay you
Under Labor Advisory No. 4, Series of 2020, your company isn’t legally obliged to pay you (Labor Advisory No. 4, Series of 2020). To staff who are home quarantined because either they are either suspected of being COVID-19 positive, or because a colleague of theirs was a suspected, the home quarantine is no work no pay.
This will ensure that everyone will be itching to go back to work after their home quarantine.
Probably from SSS via their SSS Sickness Benefit if you have enough contributions
You can however avail of SSS Sickness Benefits if you are positive of COVID-19. Here is the caveat, you must really be SICK, and this sickness is verified by a physician.
I wrote about how to apply on my last post, HR Talk: Top 10 Questions Re: SSS Sickness Benefit Answered. You just need to ensure that you have enough hulogs. See table below:
This means, if you get sick this August 2020, you need to have at least 3 hulogs between April 2019 to March 2020. This is clear in SSS’ requirement of availing their Sickness Benefit. Be warned though, the contributions must be on time and not made retroactively or you will be disqualified for the benefit. Hindi pwedeng habulin:
IMPORTANT: To be covered, Self-employed and voluntary members may pay their monthly contributions prospectively or in advance, but never retroactively to cover month/s when no contribution payments were remitted.
Print out the following forms and bring them with you when you see the doctor so your doctor can fill it up on the spot if you’re really sick. Para hindi sayang ang oras and sabay sabay na ang fill up ng form.
You can Download the Forms HERE:
- For Voluntary: SSS Sickness Reimbursement Form and SSS Medical Certificate
- If you’re Employed: SSS Notification Form and SSS Sickness Benefit Reimbursement Form
There’s Philhealth Coverage if you get Hospitalized Via COVID-19
The DOH has announced last April 15 that all Filipinos have COVID-19 coverage if they are truly positive AND hospitalized. If you get hospitalized, you have limited Philhealth coverage, which is really nice (despite the scandals).
To avail, Filipinos only need to accomplish the PhilHealth Member Registration Form (PMRF) and present with two valid IDs. Existing members with missed contributions remain eligible to avail of the COVID-19 benefits. “The PhilHealth Spokesperson also appealed to health facilities not to require deposits or advance payments from patients and assured them and the public that the government will cover their financial expenses through PhilHealth.”
So you may complain about Philhealth all you want, but it is Philhealth that will still somewhat save you if in case you are CRITICALLY ILL of COVID-19.
Pro-Tip: Choose your Hospitals Wisely. If you choose to go to a private hospital, they will charge you an arm and a leg for your diagnosis and treatment.
Every cotton bud, PPE and Kopiko will be charged to your bill. If you have limited budget, please consider a public hospital. Kasi if you go overboard the Philhealth’s case rate units, you will have to pay. No iyak tatay or nanay will make the bill go away.
7. Is there a need for re-testing after the strict 14 day home quarantine?
We have to look at the life cycle of COVID-19 to understand why there is NO NEED FOR RE-TESTING after a strict 14-day home quarantine.
Let’s look at the hypothetical on how COVID-19 infects a typical Filipino (usually from a close contact — a neighbor, family member or boyfriend since they remove the mask when meeting these closed contacts, when the first day of symptoms start, when a RT-PCR Test is scheduled (3-5 days from calling), and the date of result release (3-7 days, sometimes even 14 days in some barangays).
We have to understand the growth of COVID-19.
Looking at Dr. Salvana’s table, when you start getting sinat, chances are you’re in Day 5 of being infected of the virus. This means you’re very contagious. All that comes near you has a high chance of being infected!
Your being contagious lasts until Day 7, where contagiousness drops. And Day 10 when you’re really not infectious anymore. Here’s a table to help you understand:
Because of how we schedule testing, which is only usually by Day 10 of infection at the earliest, that we see the positive (or negative) swab test results come out.
Not counting the fact that there might be a false negative if the RT-PCR test is done too early — which happens when you test the co-worker that’s sitting beside Suspected COVID-19 patient and was infected but is only in his 2nd or 3rd day of infection — putting EVERYONE IN CONTACT OF COVID-19 POSITIVE PATIENT in home quarantine/isolation is probably the best solution in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
By the time everyone’s done with the 14-day home quarantine, it’s day 21 and barring anyone else displaying symptoms kasi nga, they’re in isolation, they can now report back to work even without testing.
It’s redundant. You’re not even contagious by this time. And it’s really just a placebo effect to make you and your co-workers feel better.
This is following the new WHO Advisory, Critical for releasing COVID-19 Patients from Isolation:
New recommendation (published on 27 May 2020 as part of more comprehensive clinical care guidance1)
Within the Clinical Management of COVID-19 interim guidance published on 27 May 2020,1 WHO updated the criteria for discharge from isolation as part of the clinical care pathway of a COVID-19 patient. These criteria apply to all COVID-19 cases regardless of isolation location or disease severity.
Criteria for discharging patients from isolation (i.e., discontinuing transmission-based precautions) without requiring retesting:
- For symptomatic patients: 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least 3 additional days without symptoms (including without fever  and without respiratory symptoms)
- For asymptomatic cases: 10 days after positive test for SARS-CoV-2
For example, if a patient had symptoms for two days, then the patient could be released from isolation after 10 days + 3 = 13 days from date of symptom onset; for a patient with symptoms for 14 days, the patient can be discharged (14 days + 3 days =) 17 days after date of symptom onset; for a patient with symptoms for 30 days, the patient can be discharged (30+3=) 33 days after symptom onset).
The report contains this caveat: ” The updated criteria for discharge from isolation balances risks and benefits; however, no criteria that can be practically implemented are without risk. There is a minimal residual risk that transmission could occur with these non–test-based criteria. There can be situations in which a minimal residual risk is unacceptable, for example, in individuals at high risk of transmitting the virus to vulnerable groups or those in high-risk situations or environments. In these situations, and in patients who are symptomatic for prolonged periods of time, a laboratory-based approach can still be useful.”
*Countries may choose to continue to use testing as part of the release criteria. If so, the initial recommendation of two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart can be used.
8. If you are on Forced Leave again during MECQ, what should we do?
a. Inform DOLE and Fill Up the RKS 5 Form To Say We are Under Forced Leave due to MECQ – Government Regulations
Companies who are chosing forced leave must inform DOLE that they will stop operations from the duration of MECQ. If you haven’t already, the RKS 5 Form is now online and accessible via https://reports.dole.gov.ph/
It’s very easy and convenient to register:
You can apply for FWA, Temporary Closure or Permanent Closure via this easy-to-access site:
I proceeded to https://reports.dole.gov.ph/fwa and filed for Flexible Work Arrangement (Forced Leave) due to MECQ.
Please note that before undertaking any Flexible Work Arrangement, you need to ensure that you have discussed with your staff re: your FWA Plans. I have attached a scanned copy of such consent from a company representative onto our application.
b. Provide your Staff with Hard Copies of their SSS Sickness Notification Form and SSS Reimbursement Forms.
Once again, if you get sick in August 2020, you need to have at least 3 updated payment contributions for April 2019 to March 2020:
At over 50,000 confirmed active cases running around, it’s always good to be prepared.
If you are still operational during MECQ, I highly suggest you print and provide every single employee a hard copy of the SSS Sickness Notification and SSS Sickness Reimbursement Forms IF they have enough hulogs. Once again, you can download the Forms HERE:
- For Voluntary: SSS Sickness Reimbursement Form and SSS Medical Certificate
- If you’re Employed: SSS Notification Form and SSS Sickness Benefit Reimbursement Form
c. Make sure that you File the Return to Work Form when work resumes, and the COVID-19 WAIR Form every 30th of the month:
COVID-19 is truly a killer and should be respected. However, staying safe from COVID-19 is merely staying with the basics: Washing your hands, wearing a face mask, keeping social distancing and if sick, staying at home.
I personally find this infographic super useful in keeping us safe from COVID-19:
Though it remains useless if we take our masks home when we get home. Because what’s the point of protecting ourselves while commuting and working if we are to remove our masks when we get home, and one of our family members is asymptomatic?
Sometimes, the easiest solution to our COVID-19 problem is not just by doing an MECQ (which has not stopped many businesses from operating), lambasting the government, or Often times, the solution is just right behind our noses, such as keeping the face masks on, except when we take a bath. Kaya no more kiss kiss hug hug kay jowa, kasi diyan talaga tayo ding naghahawaan.
Kaya po mga ka-HR, relax lang po. Our staff needs us to keep everyone together. If we are anxious, so are our people. If we are calm, so will they be. Kaya po chillax lang po, hangga’t makakaya. Remember:
Have a good weekend everyone!
Update as of August 12: What I Said Earlier
From the head of infectious diseases at The Medical City, “No repeat swab required for most patients.”