On the frontlines against COVID-19 for a year now, nurse Micah Collong longs for the day when she can hug her daughter without fear of passing on a virus that killed thousands of Filipinos and whose resurgence means daily life will stay abnormal for months to come.
Hailed as heroes of the pandemic, medical frontliners fight the same battles as regular Filipinos when they take off their PPEs, how to keep their families safe and fed during the most uncertain of times. On the first anniversary of the Philippines' lockdown, it's still duty first at the Philippine Heart Center for Collong.
"We had our own protocols to follow before visiting our then three-year-old daughter and just so we don't 'give' her and her nanny the virus. If things were bad in the community or hospital, we didn't see her. Sometimes two to three weeks straight," she told reportr.
"In a pandemic, what right does a healthcare professional have to complain? All hands are on deck," she said.
MORE ON YEAR ONE OF LOCKDOWN
They miss the human touch
Dr. Jude Erric Cinco, a cardiologist-intensivist at The Medical City, said he missed face-to-face interactions in his work and daily life. Though a barrier against the virus, the protective gear he wore also stripped his interactions with staff, patients, and students of the connection he was so used to while working.
"As a physician, personal protective equipment and habits inadvertently depersonalized or created some distance between me, my patients and their families," he said.
Cinco, who also teaches at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, had to find creative ways to engage his on-screen students.
He also went as far as "wearing a big picture of yourself smiling, just to show your human side."
Nurse Arnold Arendela, who heads a unit at The Medical City, said the pandemic taught him to look at the bigger picture. "I became resilient. I demanded myself to be. For my family, my staff, and our patients," he said.
They are cautious about 2021
The country just hit its all-time high of 7,103 daily cases on Mar. 19. In the recent weeks, daily cases hit at least 2,000, mirroring numbers from July to August 2020. Cinco said he was "cautiously optimistic" about 2021.
The 51-year-old doctor said he wished the government "convened early on a team of qualified scientists who will take the helm and implement a nationwide concerted pandemic prevention and response program."
When asked if there was one thing she wished were done differently during the past year, Collong said acting fast with mask mandates and strict borders could have helped slow the spread of the virus.
Those, and "painfully high fines for entitled idiots. Better and efficient distribution of ayuda so that low and middle-income households have enough to eat," she added.
"I can't believe we're still at it, actually. I've been counting the days for this to be over. Now it's March 2021 and we are still at it. I've learned not to hope too much," she said.
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They hope for a speedy vaccine rollout
The arrival of vaccines offer hope for a country plunged in the world's longest lockdown. But as with all things, authorities and officials have to play their cards right.
"I believe that it will go well provided that we simultaneously address all key elements of the program—supply and demand, personnel, logistics, education, and culture," Cinco said.
The Philippines got its first shipment of Sinovac jabs in late February, with inoculations limited to medical frontliners in March. Four brands so far have been approved for emergency use in the country, with more doses expected to arrive in the coming months acquired through donations, direct purchases, or tripartite deals.
"The best vaccine is the one in your arm," Collong said.
"Whatever is on hand, line up and get yourself inoculated. I think the plan will go as they planned it—slow and steady. I've already accepted the 'slow' part. The government’s plan since several months ago after all was to "wait for the vaccine" because apparently, that's all they could do. Now I'm praying for 'steady': steady supply, distribution, number of people willing to get vaccinated, results. Steady," She said.
All three frontliners have gotten their doses.
They need a break
Collong racked up hundreds of overtime hours this past year and said she plans to see and embrace all her loved ones. "I deserve a break," she said.
Much like the Filipino stuck at home, Arendela misses pre-pandemic life of travelling, going to the beach, and catching up with friends and family. Cinco said he wanted to visit churches when this is all over, and organize a clan reunion.
When asked what the world will be like after the pandemic, Arendela said some protective equipment would be here to stay. "Everything like what our pre-pandemic life was—but with face mask."
"People will be more conscious of health and safety, will be more dependent on online shopping, and will self-impose restrictions to activities with mass gatherings," Cinco said.
Collong said things will go back to the way they were: "Traffic is back, public transport issues are back, malls are back," even during the pandemic.
Despite the push for hygienic practices, Collong said people may soon forget to disinfect and wash their hands after the pandemic. "There will be minor changes maintained, sure, but overall, we're just going back."