Optional use of face mask not yet possible in Metro Manila -- expert  | Inquirer News

Optional use of face mask not yet possible in Metro Manila — expert 

/ 09:11 PM September 06, 2022
The lifting of the mandatory use of face mask, or making optional the wearing of this face cover, in Metro Manila is not yet advisable as of this time, considering the remaining high risk of severe COVID-19 and high mortality rate for the vulnerable population, an infectious disease expert said.

PROTECTION | Health officials are encouraging people not to discard their face masks as these will continue to protect them from COVID-19 despite the improving public health situation in recent months. (File photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Given the continued high risk of severe COVID-19 and high death rate for the vulnerable population, an infectious disease expert has advised against making the wearing of face masks in Metro Manila voluntary at this time.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, also a member of the Department of Health’s technical advisory group, was responding to a query about whether Metro Manila can already adopt Cebu City’s policy on optional face mask use except in medical facilities.

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Several parameters, including vaccination rates and the number of COVID-19 infections, must be taken into account, he said, before the government can relax its face mask policy.

“Well, pwede natin gayahin, but not at this point [during] pandemic. Mayroon tayong mga metrics na dapat in place kagaya ng number of cases, including the number of positivity rate, more importantly, ‘yung booster vaccination,” he said in a public briefing.

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(Well, we can do it too, but not when a pandemic is happening. The number of cases, the percentage of positive, and most crucially, the success of the booster immunization are all criteria that need to be established.)

Solante is concerned that if people aren’t required to wear face masks in public, they won’t feel the same urgency to get vaccinated or revaccinated against COVID-19.

“Sa ngayon, in this point, if we are allowing everybody na magluwag na sa pagsuot ng face mask, makikita talaga natin ‘yan na sa tingin nila na mas lalo silang maging kampante na hindi na sila magpa-booster kasi parang normal na pala tayo, wala nang pandemic,” he added.

(If we relax the rules on wearing face masks now, people will become so used to it that they won’t remember to get booster shots when the time comes (since they’ll assume we’ve returned to normal and the epidemic is finished).)

In addition, Solante mentioned the current rate of COVID-19 infections in hospitals, highlighting the prevalence of these illnesses among the most susceptible patients.

“Hindi pwedeng gano’n kasi we experience still more cases na nakita natin sa mga hospital ngayon, ‘yung vulnerable population. Medyo mababa na ang mga kaso but there is still this vulnerable population, high risk of severe COVID, and in fact, mataas ang mortality sa mga population na ito,” the infectious disease expert noted.

(The number of cases continues to outpace what medical facilities can handle, making this impossible for everyone save the most severely afflicted. There is still a susceptible population at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection and significant mortality rates, notwithstanding the low number of reported cases.)

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Cebu City implemented the outdoor non-obligatory use of face masks, which started on September 1.

For the time being, the proposal has been put on hold after Mayor Michael Rama and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos discussed it and found that miscommunications occurred on both sides.

Abalos committed to suggest the city as “pilot implementer” of the said policy and bring the concern to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases for deliberation.

On Monday, Rama issued Executive Order No. 6, amending the measure by setting a specific time frame of September 1 to December 31, 2022, that will serve as the “trial and observation period.”

However, the Department of Health said that it is unaware of the city’s “trial period.”

Solante, on the other hand, reminded local leaders of the procedures to be taken if they also wanted to adopt the same measure.

“Unang-una, there should be close coordination with the Department of Health, especially the national government in terms of implementing such policy that really are very drastic in terms of involving protection of people like face masks. Pangalawa, they should also consult with their own experts, local experts, and look at the benefit, the risks, kung meron mang ganitong klase ng mga polisiya, not because of ang sasabihin lang because we want the economy to recover,” Solante stressed.

(First of all, there should be close coordination with the Department of Health, especially with the national government in implementing such policies that are very drastic in involving the protection of people like face masks. Another thing is that they should also consult with their experts, local experts, and look at the benefit, the risks, if there’s an existing policy like this, not because we just wanted the economy to recover.)

To recover fully, the infectious disease specialist also stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy population through strict adherence to current health standards and regular booster immunizations.

— Christian Paul dela Cruz, Inquirer.net trainee

RELATED STORIES:

Cebu City sets’ trial period’ for optional mask use outdoors 

DOH unaware of Cebu City’s ‘trial period’ for optional use of face masks 

DOH worried other LGUs may copy Cebu City’s non-mandatory face mask rule 

DILG admits ‘miscommunication’ with Cebu City gov’t on optional mask use policy 

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