The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said it has recommended to President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. not to bring back the mandatory wearing of face masks amid the rising COVID-19 cases.
At a media briefing, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the recent rise in COVID-19 cases does not translate to more severe and critical cases or even deaths.
She also said the increase is not similar to the increase during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“Marahil maraming nagtatanong kung kailangan na nating ibalik ang mandatong pagsusuot ng mask. Para sa kaalaman po ng ating mamamayan, ang Kagawaran ng Kalusugan at iba-ibang miyembro ng IATF ay nakapagpasa na ng rekomendasyon sa ating Pangulo tungkol sa hindi na kinakailangan ang pagbalik ng mga restriction katulad ng mandatory masking at pagsuot na lamang nito sa mga at-risk na ating mga kababayan and in high-risk situations,” she said.
(Perhaps many are asking if we need to return the mandatory face mask policy. For the information of the public, the Health Department and various members of the IATF have already submitted a recommendation to the President regarding the unnecessary return of restrictions such as mandatory masking except for at-risk individuals and high-risk situations.)
Marcos, who made face mask use optional in October last year via Executive Order No. 7, earlier said he would check with the DOH and the IATF if there is a need to make the wearing of face masks mandatory again.
IATF refers to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the government's policy-making body in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. It is led by the DOH.
What is important, Vergeire said, is for the public to adjust their mindset on coping with the virus.
"Ang kailangan, alam natin kung paano proteksyunan ang ating sarili pati ang ating pamilya, and that, piliin natin na mag-mask tayo kapag pupunta tayo sa mga high-risk na mga lugar katulad ng mga matataong lugar," she said.
(What is needed is that we know how to protect ourselves and our families, and to wear a mask when we go to high-risk areas such as crowded places.)
She added that the increasing COVID-19 positivity rate does not paint a complete picture of the situation.
“Laging piliin na mag-mask especially in high-risk areas and if you are high-risk. Alam natin pag tayo nasa maluwag na lugar, open space, walang kasamang ibang tao, maaring hindi mag-mask, pero pagpunta na ako sa loob halimbawa ng mall, piliin mo mag mask based on your individual risk,” Vergeire said in Lei Alviz’s “24 Oras” report on Tuesday.
(Always choose to wear a mask especially in high-risk areas and if you are high-risk. We know that when we are in a spacious, open space, without other people, we may choose to take off the mask, but if we are going into a mall, make the choice based on your individual risk.)
Meanwhile, the DOH said it already leaves the decision to suspend classes to local governments and schools.
“Tulad ng paaralan, this is mandated or overseen by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Education (DepEd). It will be up to their assessment kung kailangan nilang mag online muna at di kailangan pa imandato ng national government,” Vergeire said.
(Like schools, this is mandated or overseen by the CHED and the DepEd. It will be up to their assessment if they have to go online first and not have to be mandated by the national government.)
Adamson University declared online classes in all levels from May 2 to 6 amid the increasing COVID-19 cases and for disinfection.
Bacoor City Hall has also ordered blended learning in all schools in the city.
In the transport sector, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) ordered a regular disinfection in trains and the wearing of face masks.
In the same briefing, Vergeire reported that over 78 million Filipinos are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"As of March 20, 2023, humigit kumulang 78.4 million o 100.44% [ng government target] ang fully vaccinated laban sa COVID-19, habang nasa humigit kumulang 23.8 million o 30.49% ang nakatanggap na ng kanilang first booster shots, halos 4.4 million naman ang nakapagpa-second booster," she said.
(As of March 20, 2023, approximately 78.4 million or 100.44% [of the government's target] have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while about 23.8 million or 30.49% have received their first booster shots, and nearly 4.4 million have received a second booster.)
With this, the DOH continues to encourage Filipinos to get vaccinated to strengthen the country's "wall of immunity" against COVID-19.
“Please get the job done, so that you can remain protected against COVID-19. Sama-sama po nating pagtibayin ang ating wall of immunity laban sa virus [Let's strengthen our wall of immunity against the virus together],” she said.
Vergeire also said the DOH is expecting over 390,000 doses of bivalent vaccines from an unnamed country by the end of the month.
However, she added that over one million doses of bivalent vaccines were supposed to arrive in the Philippines but were delayed.
“Nakuha na natin ang CPR [certificate of product registration] at iba pang kailnagan ng FDA,” she said.
“Hopefully, by the end of May, we will be able to receive these 390,000 doses,” Vergeire added.
Mandatory face mask for vulnerable population
Meanwhile, Philippine College of Physicians vice president Dr. Rontgene Solante said mandatory wearing of face masks should be imposed on the vulnerable population, adding that they are at high risk of getting severe COVID-19 infection.
“I don’t agree with mandatory face mask for everybody, ang gusto ko mangyari dito [what I want to happen here is] mandatory for the vulnerable population so which means 'yung mga high risk for severe COVID ang protektahan natin because we know that when they will be getting the infection, they have the high risk of getting the more severe COVID,” Solante said in an interview with Balitanghali on Tuesday.
Despite the increasing positivity rate, Solante also said the public should not panic because the country’s hospitalization rate, ICU rate, and COVID-19 death related are still “very low.”
“So I think this is not something to panic na tumataas ang positivity rate, expected ito if you have highly transmissible COVID subvariant like Omicron and the fact na madali siyang magkahawahan, maraming hindi nagsusuot ng face mask and because of summer, marami nagpupunta sa closed doors, mga indoors so expected 'yan talagang mayroon magkakasakit,” he added.
(So I think the increasing positivity rate is not something to panic about, this is expected if you have a highly transmissible COVID subvariant like Omicron and the fact that it is easy to get infected, many people do not wear face masks and because of summer, many go to closed doors or indoors, so it is expected that some people will get sick.)
The DOH reported a 42% increase in the average daily new COVID-19 cases from April 24-30, 2023. It said that is 637 fresh infections per day across the country.
Independent monitoring group OCTA Research on Tuesday also reported that the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate in the National Capital Region has hit a new high of 17.2% last week.
The group said the positivity rate in many provinces also increased to double digits, including Batangas, Benguet, Bulacan, Cebu, Isabela, Palawan, and Pampanga.
At present, the Philippines has recorded 4,093,421 COVID-19 cases, of which 5,875 remain active.—with Richa Noriega /KBK/AOL/VAL/BM, GMA Integrated News