April 21, 2024

At a glance, we can see merit in the latest move of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recommending the optional use of face masks in low-risk areas and a pilot study on wearing face masks indoors in select areas, which Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. approved in principle but is still subject to further review.

After more than two years of being covered up, we may consider this as a major shift in the country’s Covid-19 response, which, looking back included the longest lockdown ever imposed and among the strictest for being forced to isolate, limit our movements, and double up in the use of personal protective gears that suffocated and stopped us from going with our lives as we normally did.

No longer being obliged to wear face masks may be considered as a sign that we are on the road to recovery and the new normal, and that we are winning against the virus that has caused unparalleled adverse impacts globally.

We really want to be able to go out once again with uncovered faces without worrying about catching Covid-19.

However, we cannot help worrying about the consequences of removing this basic strip of protection. As we should all know by now, wearing a face mask alone does not fully guarantee protection from the virus, in the same way getting fully vaccinated and boosted does not guarantee we are fully immune from the disease.

But mask protection, as the WHO explained, is part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures against the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19.

For us, the use of face masks should always be a part of the minimum public health standards, which the Department of Health always reiterates, which include hand hygiene, physical distancing, not touching one’s face, respiratory etiquette, and adequate ventilation in indoor settings.

It is, we believe, the reason the MPHS has become the first line of defense in protecting public health the past two years even when anti-Covid-19 vaccines had already become available.

We also should not forget we are protecting ourselves not only against Covid-19, but also from contagious diseases such as monkeypox, against the already common viral elements, and other emerging diseases we may not be aware of yet but are already lurking in our surroundings.

Lest we also forget, the Covid-19 virus has already mutated many times and would continue to spawn new variants due to the changing climate and environments.

Can we really not make wearing a way of life, or use one regularly already even without a law mandating us to do so given the risks that have not been fully removed yet?

Again, we should be reminded the pandemic is not yet over. The WHO has not yet lifted its declaration of global health emergency due to Covid-19, and as data show, Covid-19 transmission has not stopped; it might have just slowed down.

Our country’s Covid-19 statistics show new cases and deaths are still being recorded, which is also the scenario in other countries.

We agree with the reason of the government as well as the concerned sectors that easing the health protocols will help us further perk up our recovering economy, as we may be able to attract more economic activities as long as we are able to further increase our vaccination rate.

We also appreciate the move of concerned agencies to study the impacts of the plan to make the wearing of face masks no longer obligatory by piloting it first until the end of the year.

But as long as the threats of Covid-19 are present, it is our stand not to unmask ourselves yet and continue to make its use an integral part of the minimum public health standards.

As health experts advise, the danger remains and we cannot afford to be more complacent.