One may conjure images of medical personnel wearing protective equipment, attending to patients stricken with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), with a mere mention of the term “front-line workers”.

Photo: Marycon Rabosa distributes meals to the patients admitted at the UGF. Rabosa leaves the food packs on top of the chairs outside the patients’ cubicles instead of handing them directly to avoid possible contamination.

But, since the coronavirus outbreak last year, the term is not limited to doctors and nurses alone, but also other workers deemed essential to providing the goods and services that we need.

Similar to medical front-liners, they, too are at an increased risk of getting the disease because of exposure to other people.

Alvin Alba, 32, a janitor who works at the Ultra Quarantine Facility (UQF) in Pasig City, starts his work everyday at 6 a.m. The facility where he works used to be a sports arena but was designed to house laboratory-confirmed cases positive for Covid-19 who are asymptomatic.

A nurse at the Ultra Quarantine Facility (UQF) in Pasig City seals the goggles of Alvin Alba, a janitor, with duct tape to ensure that Alba is protected against the coronavirus.

“Nagsisimula po ang trabaho namin ng 6 a.m. araw-araw. Naglilinis po kami ng banyo, nagbibigay ng pagkain at tubig sa mga pasyente, nagkokolekta din ng mga maruming damit ng pasyente para malabhan at nag-aassist kapag magaling na sila at lalabas na dito (Our work starts daily at 6 a.m. We clean the bathrooms, hand patients their meals and water, we also collect patients’ dirty clothes for laundry and assist them in going out when they have finally recovered),” he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview.

Alvin’s family lives in Masbate. It has been nine months since he was able to spend time with them.

Prior to their deployment on May 14, 2020, Alvin and his teammates underwent a three-day training on the proper way to perform their tasks, conducted by the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives-trained personnel of the Philippine National Police from its health service unit.

Among others, they are trained how to mix decontamination solution; decontaminate the facility, patients and themselves; correct wearing of personal protective equipment and adhering to minimum public health standards while working inside the facility.

“Hindi naman po mahirap ang trabaho namin, challenging lang po ang gumalaw na nakasuot ng PPE (Our work here is not hard, I just find it challenging to move about while wearing PPE),” Alvin said.

The same is true for Marycon Rabosa, 39, Alvin’s co-worker at the facility.

Marycon Rabosa distributes meals to the patients admitted at the UQF. Rabosa leaves the food packs on top of the chairs outside the patients’ cubicles instead of handing them directly to avoid possible contamination.

“Kapag naka-PPE kasi mahirap huminga at mainit, napapawisan ako, pero kaya naman na, nasanay na rin ako (It’s difficult to breathe while wearing PPE, it’s also hot, I sweat a lot, but I got used to it already),” Marycon said.

Marycon, a mother to three boys who all live in Laguna, has been away from her children when she started working at the facility.

Alvin and Marycon were both service crew at a Manila branch of Angel’s Burger before the national government placed the National Capital Region under lockdown on March 15, 2020 to contain the spread of coronavirus.

After losing their jobs, they were lucky enough to see on Facebook an ad that looks for workers. Even with the fear of getting infected at the time when the pandemic was at its peak, the two grabbed the opportunity.

As the number of patients entering the facility continues to rise, Marycon said she cannot help but worry at times about getting infected by the coronavirus.

“Natatakot din ako mahawaan ng Covid lalo’t exposed talaga kami sa pasiyente, pero mas takot akong magutom ang pamilya ko, kaya tiyaga talaga ako sa trabaho na ito (I also fear contracting covid since we’re exposed to patients, but I fear being unable to provide for my family, that’s why I persevere in this job),” she added.

For Enzo Cruz, 40, he is not scared of contracting the disease even if he is exposed to Covid-19 patients daily, believing that they have received enough training as front-liners.

Enzo Cruz waits at the entrance of the UQF as a police security personnel disinfects the ambulance he is in together with patients positive for Covid-19.

Sa awa ng Diyos, hanggang ngayon, hindi pa ako nagkakasakit simula ng pinasok ko itong trabahong ito kasi sinusunod ko naman, pagsusuot ng PPE, kain nang maayos, inom ng vitamins at gamot, saka paglilinis ng katawan bago matulog pagkatapos ng trabaho (By God’s mercies, I haven’t been sick since I entered this job because I observe proper wearing of PPE, eating healthy food, taking vitamins and medicines and cleaning myself thoroughly after work before going to sleep),” he said.

Enzo is a driver assigned to pick up patients from their homes or hotels once they have been recommended for admission at the facility by the One Hospital Command Center which facilitates a comprehensive and coordinated response to the pandemic by ensuring effective and efficient health facility referral in Metro Manila.

“Hindi naman ako nahihirapan sa trabaho ko, minsan lang ano, yung mga tao iba na ang tingin sayo kapag nakita kang bababa ng sasakyan na nakasuot ng PPE. ‘Yung iba parang may takot o pag-iwas agad pero naiintindihan ko naman ‘yun (I don’t find my job difficult, sometimes, people look at me differently especially when I alight the ambulance wearing full PPE. Some are scared or avoid me immediately but I understand them),” he said.

Unlike Alvin and Marycon, Enzo stays in a hotel within Pasig City to keep his relatives from being infected by any virus that he might carry.

Recalling the day he started bringing patients to the facility, Enzo said he may have assisted a thousand patients, most of whom are overseas Filipino workers and front-liners from different fields.

“’Yung iba, lalo na ang mga babae natatakot sila kaya sinasabi ko na lang two weeks lang kayo diyan para lang kayong nagbabakasyon, libre ang pagkain at gamot habang nagpapagaling para hindi sila panghinaan ng loob (Some patients, especially women, are scared, so I tell them it’s just like having a vacation for two weeks with free food and medicine until they recover, just to ease their fears),” he said.

When asked if they would continue with their respective jobs, all three answered “yes”, saying they regard their work as service to the country.

Being away from their families is only one of the sacrifices they are willing to make because for Alvin, Marycon and Enzo, serving others and the nation is their way of giving back to the community.

“Magpapatuloy ako dahil Ito ang tungkulin namin bilang isang front-liner, mahalaga ang trabaho namin para maasikaso ang mga positibo sa Covid-19 (I will continue working here because this is our task as a front-liner, our job is important in helping patients positive for Covid-19),” Alvin said.

“Magpapatuloy pa rin ako dito hanggang matapos itong pandemiya. Mahirap pa ngayon mag hanap ng trabaho saka sabi na namin ng mga kasamahan ko ay kakayanin para sa bayan (I will continue working here until the pandemic ends. It’s hard to find a job now and like what my workmates and I say, we’ll endure the hardships for the country),” Marycon said.

“Tulong ko po ito sa gobiyerno mabawasan ang problema dulot ng pandemiya habang mayroon din akong trabaho pangtustos sa pamilya ko. Hindi lang naman mga doktor at nurse lang ang front-liners di ba, kami rin (This is how I can help the government solve the problems brought about by the pandemic and I’m able to provide for my family at the same time. We’re also front-liners, not just the doctors and nurses),” Enzo said.

To date, there are 78 patients positive for Covid-19 admitted at the UQF.

UQF has a 132-bed capacity and serves as a quarantine area to isolate positive cases from their families and the community.

Located inside the Philippine Sports Complex, it is one of the seven Mega Ligtas Covid Centers or Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facilities (TTMFs) in Metro Manila.

TTMFs are temporary non-hospital health facilities or emergency patient care centers established and managed by the national government to accommodate patients with Covid-19 at the provincial or regional level as part of its efforts to fight the pandemic. (Ma. Teresa Montemayor, PNA)