‘One out of 5 ICU nurses is a Filipino’ — ConGen Cristobal

The ConGen Media Hour on Zoom

By Lindy Rosales

“These are challenging times. And the pandemic is very much in our midst. Our community has been affected… and affected badly. As of this morning, 50 of our kababayans have died from Covid-19.”

Consul General Claro Cristobal opened with this grim remark in an April 18 press briefing with members of the Fil-Am Press Club conducted via Zoom online meeting. He revealed Filipino Restaurant Week is cancelled, and the Paaralan sa Konsulado might not happen this year. An online wellness program might be launched sometime in May to keep the community engaged but this too remains up in the air. There is “no outlook” on the Filipino Independence Day celebrations and festivities, and Cristobal reiterated his appeal for everyone to continue to practice social distancing and to take care of their heath.

“This pandemic is so close to our hearts as one out of five nurses manning the ICUs is a Filipino nurse,” he said. “Eighteen (36 percent) of the 50 Filipino American fatalities (reported to the consulate) are frontliners made up of doctors, nurses, therapists, lab technicians and hospital transport workers.”

The Filipino fatality rate among frontliners is 1:3 Filipino deaths in the U.S. Northeast, he said. 

The consulate has jurisdiction over 10 states in the Northeast Region covering New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, where 384,000 Filipino Americans live and work.

The consulate remains closed till May 15 and hopes to reopen as soon as NY on PAUSE is lifted, but Cristobal said it will continue to serve the public  on an emergency basis. It can be reached via Facebook (PCGinNY) or through the hotline 917-294-0916. The few passports received from Manila had been mailed out, he said. A major change is expected upon reopening with the introduction of an appointment system dubbed as the “Queue-less Appointment and Queuing System.”

To date, the Consulate has received 57 requests for assistance on rebooking flights to the Philippines as well as information on what happens when they land in Manila. Fifteen of the requests received were for financial assistance due to loss of employment, being on furlough, and  the termination of exchange programs.

Some questions form the press club for ConGen Cristobal.

Q: Are there any consular services of urgent nature that can be attended to by appointment before May 15?

A: No, we are not open to the public until we open back.

Q: Will there be any repatriation operation?

A: No. And we don’t expect any generic repatriation goals any time soon.

Q: What is the protocol for Filipinos who die here who have no immediate family members. Is there a way for the family to request help in retrieving ashes or sending them to the Philippines?

A: Of the great number of consular services that we continue to do at this time is the report of death services.

Q: How to report or share information to the consulate regarding the number of fatalities?

A: You can reach us through the hotline, Facebook or through our website. The following information are needed: Name, age, civil status, occupation, next of kin that will help identify the person. Information will be included in the next advisory.

Q: Were any of the 57 requests for assistance received from undocumented kababayans? What assistance if possible can the consulate offer or extend to them?

A: All the 57 who reached out to us were all J-1 visa holders (who are research scholars, professors and exchange visitors). We have so far not any documented requests among what you call undocumented. I don’t know of any specific case. In New York City, services to anybody with any immigration status (all right or not all right), they can come to any city government office. There is no way that anyone will be rejected if this person seeks assistance.

Q: With the 18 frontliners who died, can we share our list with each other so we can have a proper “In Memoriam” for the frontliners because we don’t want them to remain nameless after this war is over. Are you open for collaboration as far as that is concerned.

A: First thing, quick answer is No. Second thing, is to remind you of very strict privacy rules in the U.S. You are aware communication between relatives may not be as easy as before in the current situations. And one fear, in several of the cases that I know, we cannot identify the relatives. And we cannot release any names without first notifying the next of kin. That is one difficulty and I intend to uphold such rules.

© The FilAm 2020

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