The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is rising, and it's likely it will continue to rise as the Department of Health works to detect and quarantine every confirmed case in the country. There have already been confirmed cases of local transmission, and various companies are already encouraging remote working and self-quarantine to stop the spread of the virus.

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The symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to that of a common cold and the flu, but here's a guide to differentiating one from the other:

COVID-19 is said to be "mild" for a majority of infected persons, particularly those aged below 50 years old. But the issue here is not whether the case will be "mild" for you or other healthy persons, but if it will be "mild" or "severe" for the elderly and those with existing respiratory or autoimmune diseases. It's the parents and grandparents that are most at risk of the virus as it can cause severe pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome.  

Health is a public matter, and in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to individuals who will not be able to fight it, necessary precautions must be taken to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the entire population.

If you have any of these symptoms in line with COVID-19, then it's time to see the doctor or self-quarantine to ensure you don't spread this virus to other people. This is what you should do:

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1. Assess yourself first.

If you have the right symptoms but are not very sick, have not traveled recently, or have not been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case, "then it is best to stay at home and rest," said Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health.

As directed by the new triage system of the Department of Health, hospitals have been advised to admit only those who are very ill, have traveled recently, or have been exposed to confirmed cases as patients under investigation (PUI). Those who do not meet these criteria will be redirected to another section of the hospital or be advised to self-quarantine at home.

2. Decide which hospital to go to.

"If you do have exposures or travel (or are seriously ill), then put on a surgical mask, proceed to any Level 2 or Level 3 hospital," said Salvana.

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Click here to see the full list of Level 2 and Level 3 hospitals in the Philippines.

If the nearest hospital is on this list, then call the hospital's hotline to check if they are still admitting PUIs to save yourself a trip. For example, The Medical City in Pasig City has stopped admitting PUIs as the hospital is now at full capacity. Possible PUIs will be redirected to another hospital for treatment.

If the hotline is busy, try contacting your general physician for further assistance.  

It's important that you go to either a Level 2 or Level 3 hospital as not all hospitals are equipped to handle COVID-19 cases. Level 2 and 3 hospitals have designated COVID-19 areas in the emergency room as well as the equipment to protect healthcare workers.

 "Only RITM (Research Institute of Tropical Medicine) tests at this time, but more labs are coming online shortly. Hospitals can send tests to RITM through the RESU (Responding Epidemiology Surveillance Unit)," explained Salvana.

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3. Pack an emergency bag.

"That's always a good idea. But always be mindful of what you touch and wash your hands frequently," said Salvana.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, then you will be quarantined immediately and won't be returning home for a good two weeks. To prepare for this situation, pack and bring an emergency bag with all your necessities. These include important documents, healthcare paperwork, healthcare card, PhilHealth ID, wallet, credit/debit cards, documents showing medical history, any medication you are currently taking, prescriptions for said medication, cell phone charger, etc.

Do not bring food, water, toiletries, clothes for two weeks, or anything else that the hospital can provide for you.

4. Alert your family, friends, and workplace.

If you believe you will be admitted and quarantined at the hospital, alert your immediate family and closest friends so they know where you will be. Also, inform your boss at your workplace so they can accommodate your absence while you're being treated.

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By informing your family, friends, and workplace, you will also put them on alert to monitor each other's health and to disinfect the areas you have recently visited.

Only inform those who need to know to avoid creating a commotion.

5. Protect yourself and others on your way to the hospital.

"Wash your hands. Put on a surgical mask. Don't go into the main hospital, go straight to the emergency room where most Level 2 or 3 hospitals already have a triage area for possible COVID-19 cases," said Salvana. "Tell them you might have COVID-19, so they can evaluate you safely with protective gear."

When it's time to go to the hospital, figure out the route that will require the least amount of contact with humans. Avoid commuting. Have someone you trust to drive you to the hospital and avoid contact with that person.

When you walk into the emergency room with your emergency bag in hand, find the nearest healthcare worker and inform them of your situation.

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After that, you should be in the safe hands of first responders and the hospital.  

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