SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — While social interaction remains important even during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s still no time to party especially when minimum health requirements like wearing face mask and keeping physical distancing cannot be observed.
This was the lesson some employees of a business process outsourcing (BPO) company here recently learned the hard way after attending parties that might have served as super-spreading events, said Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma.
“As of latest count, 25 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 infection out of 65 workers who had to be placed on quarantine,” Eisma announced on Wednesday.
“Our health experts here have determined that were it not for parties that workers attended, all these hassles of quarantine and work stoppage would not have happened,” she added.
Dr. Solomon Jacalne, who heads the SBMA Public Health & Safety Department, said the surge in Covid-19 cases at the company was traced to two parties that employees attended last Nov. 14, a Saturday. The first was a beach party at Baloy, a popular beach area in Olongapo City, and the second was a pool party held in San Marcelino, Zambales.
Jacalne said contact tracing indicated that the employees who tested positive of Covid-19 either attended the parties or were exposed to co-workers who went to the said social gatherings.
But the doctor added that it was the unsafe behavior of employees that allowed further spread of the virus. “Some were not honest with their health declaration,” he noted. “They didn’t say they were sick and they reported for work just the same because of the company’s no-work-no-pay policy.”
Jacalne said the first case was recorded on Nov. 6, but the patient’s two identified close contacts had tested negative. The next two positive cases were known on Nov. 17—a couple who declared as close contacts only those with whom they shared the shuttle bus.
“Then there came to be a sudden spike in the following days, from Nov. 19 to 25. And this was the only time when the employees admitted about the beach and pool parties—when there were already 16 positive cases,” Jacalne said.
After the parties were revealed, further investigation by tracers widened the circle of close contacts to a total of 65—all employees of the BPO firm. Out of these, 25 so far have tested positive of the virus.
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Jacalne added that no other positive case was recorded at the firm in the last seven days and that all the suspect cases are now under quarantine in their respective areas in Zambales, Olongapo City and Bataan and awaiting schedule for RT-PCR test.
Following this development, Chairman Eisma ordered further investigation to determine additional safety measures to be imposed at the workplace.
Company officials said they have already installed barriers between work stations as early as August and have now positioned their call agents one workstation apart.
It was also learned that with 500 call center agents in its employ, the company intends to expand into a bigger area to comply with Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04-A, which provided for supplemental guidelines from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on workplace prevention and control of Covid-19.
Eisma said the SBMA will look into the possibility of leasing out a portion of a nearby building for the expansion area needed by the firm.
Eisma also urged companies in the Subic Freeport to forego the traditional company Christmas party this year to avoid the risk of virus transmission. “Let us stay safe. We can make Christmas more meaningful, more special and more rewarding by celebrating it with our family and household members this year,” Eisma added.