Caregiving and Activism in COVID Times (COVID-19 Journals)

By: Chi Laigo Vallido

At 9:00 p.m., we arrived at the emergency room of a hospital in the City of Manila. This isn’t our first trip to the emergency room (ER) due to a severe asthma attack. But this was our first time during this pandemic.  In our experience, the ER patient does not get wheeled in right away like before. This time, we had to wait outside the emergency room. When the swab tests came out negative for COVID-19, it was only then that I was told to go to the admissions office. My husband had to wait in a wheelchair, holding on to all our bags while I get him admitted.  By the time we got into our hospital room, it was already 3 a.m.  

My greatest fear as a caregiver to family members with pre-existing medical conditions during these times is for them to get hospitalized because of their illness or worse, to be stricken with COVID-19.  I also fear getting sick with COVID and then infecting my family since I go out to buy medicines and groceries.

But it’s during these short trips away from the safety of our homes that we see how much this pandemic has changed not just our lives but our communities. We witness the corner meat shop closing down. The plastic and fiber glass covers behind counters of convenience stores and shops.  There are markers on the floors and smiles are hidden behind facemasks and face shields.  The village park a few meters away from our home had been closed. There used to be a daycare center there and we would hear the children playing in the afternoons.  The laughter of children had been replaced by sirens signaling the start of the curfew or sirens from ambulances.

Photo credit: Don Lerdel Laigo. At the department store
Facemasks have now replaced coats and jackets on the hanger

Zoom-vocacy home invasion

As of this writing, more than 271 million had been infected by COVID-19 from 222 countries and territories and more than five million have died. Cases in the Philippines have reached more than 2.8 million, and COVID related deaths are at 50,351. For a few months into the pandemic, health and rights advocates navigated through a drastic change in work set-ups. As schools and offices closed down to prevent the spread of the virus, our homes have been re-arranged as extended offices. The dinner table or our bedroom dresser doubles as an office desk. The computer and smart phone cameras during online meetings have invaded the privacy of our homes.

Photo credit: Jen Tombaga, Provincial Health Office of Palawan, south of Manila
Zoom meeting with colleagues from NGO community

The last face-to-face meeting I attended was during the Senate presentation of the Girls Not Brides Bill authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros to eliminate early and enforced child marriages in the Philippines. As advocates of policies that champion women’s and children’s rights, we are used to engaging legislators in the halls of Congress and the streets of Manila. 

But with the pandemic,  virtual platforms have now become the gathering spaces of advocates. Twitter, Facebook, and Zoom amplify our voices but they have unfortunately diminished the participation of advocates from grassroots communities that have limited access to gadgets or equipment required in these online spaces. In protest rallies, advocates are hand-in-hand and have  levelled spaces in calling out for changes in society. But the inequality among advocates have become more obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic particularly in the use of social media and other information and communication technologies (ICTs).

“Facebook is the new EDSA”

After 19 months since the first COVID-19 case was detected in the country, many of us are still working from home or under a hybrid (partial home and office) set-up. We’ve learned to use the virtual platform that’s available. I continue to help in managing several webinars and online discussions on issues that have taken a back seat from COVID but has gotten worse due to the pandemic. The number of participants to these webinars have been encouraging. The issues of malnutrition, reproductive health, violence against women, mental health, food security among others need to be amplified just as much as our COVID situation.  Next to Indonesia, the Philippines has the most number of stunted children in the Southeast Asian region.

In 1986, thousands of Filipinos gathered in EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) in what has since been known as the EDSA People Power Revolution. But with more advocates stuck at home during the many months of lockdown, the social media has become a venue to call out gaps in the management of the pandemic. That’s why many have called social-media as the country’s new EDSA where people or Netizens of common interests and concerns have found support. In some cases, due to massive commentaries on social media, a number of unjust policies related to COVID response had been withdrawn. Like the use of motorcycle shields or barriers for backriders that had been scrapped. 

Advocates are caregivers too and are not immune to COVID-19. As the virus continue to rage across the country, Facebook posts soon turned into obituary pages. COVID-19 has slowly crept closer to home. We read about colleagues or their loved ones getting sick and dying. Instead of tight hugs of sympathy, we could only type our condolences in the comment sections on Facebook posts. 

Screenshot: Gathering of generations of women activists in support of the book launch on Women Health Rights Stories
Author and daughter waiting to get COVOD-19 vaccine

Powerful Discriminating Cards

Our wallet and credit cards used to be the essential items we needed when shopping. Now, we must also carry with us our Quarantine Passes (Q-Pass) and our vaccination cards.  We can’t dine in restaurants without the vaccination cards. But vaccination is dependent on supplies and a priority list. This can be problematic for caregivers waiting for their turn to get vaccinated. The threat of being infected while outside for errands or for work is real. During the new COVID variant surges, we hear about entire families getting infected by members who go out for work or from what should be a harmless trip from the grocery.  Even a short chat with friends or visits from family members are risky as we tend to let our guards down.

At the hospital and looking at the long line of patients outside the emergency room.

In the hospital, I had to take care of my husband alone since only one companion is allowed per patient. Hospital visitors or companions must take a swab test and be negative for COVID-19. The simple antigen-rapid test costs at least 1,000 pesos or about US$20 and you get the results within 30 minutes to an hour. The RT-PCR test or what is called the “gold-standard” in COVID-19 tests costs between P3,500-4,500 or between US$70-90 and the results could take 24-48 hours. But aside from the cost of the antigen test, hospitals are breeding grounds for infection and not just COVID. To minimize risks, we just take video chats with our daughter while in the hospital. It was also a good thing that the hospital offer companion meals so that I didn’t have to go out to buy my food. A companion meal is hospital food that didn’t hold off on the salt and oil.

Author’s sister for a check-up

As cases continue to rise, advocates, activists and the woke citizenry must continue to face the advocacy issues through the screens of our computers, laptops and phones until we are able to join arms again in the streets of Manila with our megaphones and banners. For now, the sound of vehicles in the streets during rallies had been replaced by barking dogs or crows of roosters. Endearing sounds. Distracting when you’re speaking but we adapt and carry on. W