Getting on the same page

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

It seems that every week we are being met with new plans and new ideas about COVID-19 rules and regulations. While it’s good to keep updated with the latest safety protocols, it’s also quite time-consuming and confusing to keep hearing one thing on the news and then being met with another in person.

One example was the face shield situation that happened a couple of weeks ago. While the research on face shield effectivity has gone both ways, the truth is they are difficult to wear for many people outside – especially those who have to commute by motorcycle or bicycle. The use of face shields outdoors is a constant topic that is discussed, and there was a brief second we thought that face shield restrictions would be eased – at least outdoors.

After all, wearing them as an added precaution in indoor spaces that aren’t well ventilated is not a bad thing. We could all use more protection. However, no sooner did we get the news that perhaps face shields outdoors would no longer be mandatory, that was walked back and the face shield restrictions were maintained.

The back and forth on policies has been the same for several other restrictions, too, for the past year and a half, especially when it comes to travel, and to kids and senior citizens. While some travel restrictions were modified, it also seems as if those in charge did not speak with one another before making announcements.

Last week the news spread that fully vaccinated individuals would no longer need to do testing if traveling within the country to similar quarantine zones – GCQ to GCQ and etc. While that may have seemed premature, we didn’t have to really worry about it for long because it was again walked back almost immediately and testing requirements between provinces remained.

The same can be said for international travel. There was a lot of back and forth between quarantine stays for individuals arriving in the country. This was a mix of people coming from “green zone” countries and also between fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated travelers. It’s a delicate balance of protecting our borders and allowing travelers in. While I believe that balance should definitely be protected and established, I also think it’s important for everyone to get on the same page about how we do it.

Currently, we are looking at seven days of quarantine for vaccinated travelers from green zones and 10 days of quarantine for vaccinated passengers from non-green zone destinations. On top of that, passengers who were fully vaccinated in the Philippines are supposed to only have to quarantine for seven days regardless of prior destination. In the end, because of the confusing parameters, some passengers are made to stay longer than needed (or shorter than needed) because there isn’t a hard and fast rule on implementation.

Honestly, this is where we have to utilize testing capabilities alongside quarantine guidelines. After all, we can’t truly corral the vaccine just with quarantine alone. That’s something we’ve all known since Day 1. We need to properly quarantine, test, trace, and vaccinate. These protocols can’t and shouldn’t exist in a vacuum.

In either case, the latest rule change that has been announced this week is about children being allowed in some outdoor places. I think we can all agree that children have really had the hardest time being stuck indoors. While that is definitely for their own safety, it has been a relief for them to be able to at least walk outside – with masks, face shields, and social distancing of course.

Earlier this week it was announced that children five years old and above would now be allowed in certain parks and even certain outdoor dining establishments – but this is not universal. It will still depend on the establishments, and even the local government units, to decide if they will allow kids. Several have already said that their rules, for now, will remain the same.

Do I think kids should be kept safe? Absolutely! The best way to do that is at home. However, I’m also concerned about the announcement of in-person classes happening soon when we can’t even decide if children can be allowed in well-ventilated outdoor locations with parental guidance.

This is a bridge that is fast approaching with the new school year and an entirely new issue that is going to have policies that go back and forth. Hopefully, we can consolidate policies better before then because it’s going to be a big safety concern. In order for our rules and protocols to work, we have to implement them properly. In order to do that, we need to minimize confusion and work with the same parameters. I believe that’s the best way to be efficient in the ongoing struggle to define our new normal.

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