SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has ordered the Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC), operator of the new container terminal here, to have all their employees tested for new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after an outbreak of cases there last week.
SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said a total of 14 positive COVID cases have been recorded among SBITC workers since July 30 when a worker from Olongapo City, who had no history of travel to any high-risk area, first manifested symptoms of the disease.
“It was either mass testing by RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) or shutdown of terminal operations—that’s the only choice left if we wanted to contain the outbreak,” Eisma said.
She said the SBMA also required disinfection of the whole terminal complex, closure of engineering and maintenance areas subject to focused disinfection, and daily in-house disinfection.
“Thankfully, the SBITC management was very cooperative in our strategy to contain the spread, as we knew that closure is a last resort because testing is the key to preventing the spread and that the Red Cross lab at our doorstep makes for fast turnaround for results,” she added.
She said that SBITC president Roberto Locsin has given the assurance that aside from those already traced and tested after some workers turned out positive, all other personnel working in the container terminal will undergo RT-PCR test.
These include a total of 238 shift workers, port users, security personnel, canteen staff, and even SBMA checkers.
According to contact tracing records received by the SBMA Public Health and Safety Department, at least 50 employees have been identified as close contacts after the first Covid-19 infection at SBITC.
The PHSD said after the first worker tested positive on Aug. 4, tracing identified 15 contacts in the workforce. When three of the 15 contacts tested positive on Aug. 7, 25 close contacts were identified in turn and of these, seven came out positive. Since then, three other positive cases were recorded.
Of the 14 infected workers, nine are from Olongapo City, four from Zambales, and one from Aurora.
Only two of the confirmed cases have been admitted to a hospital, as the rest, who are mostly asymptomatic, were placed on home quarantine.
In messages to Chairman Eisma, Locsin said that they have also initiated other measures to arrest the infection in the workplace.
Aside from contact tracing and immediate quarantining of close contacts, the firm had since closed the administration building to visitors, started issuing gate passes online, encouraged online payments, closed the operations barracks, ordered the mandatory wearing of face mask and face shield, and prohibited dine-in at the company canteen.
Locsin also said terminal facilities have been disinfected first by the SBMA Fire Department on Aug. 8 to 10, and the next by a third party contractor on Aug. 11. More disinfection was made on Aug. 15 and 16.
For the mass testing scheduled today, Aug. 17, Eisma said that swabbing booths have been set up by SBITC at the terminal, with two mobile swab booths loaned by the SBMA for contingency.
Two medical technologists will be assigned at the container terminal to take swab samples starting at 9 a.m. from 80 SBITC staff already stationed at the terminal, while three others will be at the SBMA swabbing center near the Subic main gate for samples from the other 158 SBITC workers who would be coming mostly from Olongapo City.
Eisma said that test results can be generated within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the volume of samples tested at the Red Cross molecular laboratory here in the Freeport. (