IT was around this time last year when all of Baguio was asked to shelter in place because the epidemic had already gone global and brought to the level of a pandemic. I had just brought my mother home from hospital confinement and I thought the timing of her discharge could not have been more impeccable. The reason is that in the days prior to her discharge, the hospital was transitioning fast to its present-day protocols. A triage area was established, with mandatory face mask requirements on all occupants and the enforcement of a strict one-watcher-per-patient rule. What was troubling were rumors circulating that Covid-19 patients were being admitted so you can probably imagine the mad urge for me to get the heck out of the contact zone.
Prior to March 14, I also taught in a writing workshop organized by the university – inside an actual seminar hall, with workshop participants, catered food, and a hotel room where I stayed for at least two nights. This was the last time I ever saw the inside of a lecture hall or a hotel room for that manner. Within these days, classes were being suspended indefinitely until the suspension subsisted throughout the remainder of the school year. There have been no face-to-face classes done to this day despite previous attempts by DepEd, for instance, to declare limited classroom sessions.
My encounters with the transition process from the classroom to remote learning in graduate school was chaotic. Facebook live and group chats in the same platform were confused and disorganized. The university scrambled for a more stable and reliable system under its own “virtual learning environment,” as it cornered a subscription for synchronous meetings through Zoom. It is true that the technology from the Open University served as the blueprint for a system-wide strategy for remote learning. However, I feel that not all courses are designed for remote learning, or that all students could dovetail (or “volt in” to betray my age) perfectly to a virtual learning environment.
This is just a fraction of what people like me had to go through over the past year. The rest of us in society has had to grapple with our own challenges and outcomes occasioned by this pandemic – dire and tragic, for better or worse. It now seems petty to think that last year, grocery shelves were running out of toilet paper, alcohol, face masks and vitamin pills. We queued for these items in an atmosphere that felt like the zombie apocalypse and that surely represented the worst situation humanity could be in at that time.
But right now, I could not say for sure what is worse. On Thursday alone, it was reported that the Philippines have had the highest number of Covid-19 positive cases since September last year at below 4,000 and it seems the figure does not even merit a blip in our collective outrage meter. This trend seems to mirror the Baguio situation where it had the highest single day case count on March 3 at 118 individuals. It is worth noting that in the past year, as the city rode through days under lockdown, a single reported positive case would gain much attention on social media with hundreds of reactions and comments. Today, we do not seem to care or even notice.
Fatigue has set in, or at least frustration is apparent at how government seems to constantly bungle and mishandle its response to a still subsisting national emergency. We are the only nation with a face mask and face shield mandate and yet we log in the highest daily case rate in the Southeast Asian region. We insist on a measure that has no proven basis in efficacy and yet there is no interest at all to look deeper into the evidence of double masking as propounded by the US Center for Disease Control, among other measures recommended by the world scientific community.
However, the loosening of restrictions is perhaps driven by the confidence brought about by the arrival of the vaccines. Sadly, this might be lulling us into a false sense of security. As frontline health workers begin to get vaccinated, how many vaccine serums have arrived so far? A million? More than a million? If we have 90 million Filipinos today, at least 63 million Filipinos need to be vaccinated if herd immunity is said to be achieved with 70 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
That is such a mind-boggling number if we consider the rate in which Filipinos are being vaccinated today with the number of vaccines allotted, against the urge of the populace to go willy-nilly with basic health protocols. Without the previous restrictions, this is going to be a race at how fast the population could get vaccinated versus the speed in which the case rates go up just because we think these are already normal times. If case rates outpace the vaccination rates, I fear, a year later, that the worst is yet to come for us hapless Filipinos.