About-face on the face shield

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Unexpectedly, President Rodrigo Duterte announced last week the wearing of face shields outdoors will no longer be required. That’s the opening spiel of President Duterte during his late Monday night “talk to the people” while meeting the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

But hold your breath. The President quickly added though that people are still required to wear face shields in areas that fall under the so-called “3Cs,” or the crowded places, confined or enclosed spaces, and close contact settings.

“No more face shields outside,” President Duterte declared. The Chief Executive disclosed the IATF’s technical advisory group and other medical experts recommended to ease face shield regulations being enforced by the government to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Actually, the “3Cs” conform with the World Health Organization (WHO) global advisory about specific places where COVID-19 spreads more easily.

Our own Department of Health (DOH), as co-chairman of IATF, adopted the “3C’s” of the WHO in our own country’s campaign to control the spread of the COVID-19 contagion. In December 2020, the IATF started this requirement to wear face shields on top of face masks whenever they leave their homes. Private and public establishments refuse entry of individuals not wearing face shield over face masks. Some local government units (LGUs) even came out with local ordinances imposing fines and penalties against individuals if caught not wearing face shield over face masks.

Speaking in Tagalog, President Duterte explained the “3Cs” limits of face shield use include closed facilities like hospitals; crowded spaces especially not well ventilated areas; and, close contact places where social distancing is physically impossible. In effect, people will still bring and wear their face shields even if these plastic barriers are no longer required to be worn outdoors.

But obviously, the President himself is confused by his own announcement. Because after doing so, the President hastily admitted he just ordered the guidelines for this new policy to be issued immediately.

Did the President jump the gun on the IATF? Or the technical and medical advisory groups jumped over the heads of the IATF?

The President’s decision to ease the required wearing of face shield outdoors came several months after he first rescinded this order. Actually, it was Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who broke the news in his Twitter account on June 17:“Last night, the President agreed that face shields should only be used in hospitals. Allowed us to remove ours! Attn DOH.”

Interviewed by Senate reporters later that day, Sotto revealed President Duterte told them about this during a meeting the previous night at Malacañang with several key lawmakers on the matter of common legislative agenda for the third and last regular sessions of the 18th Congress. “I remember him (Duterte) saying he will tell DOH,” Sotto narrated their conversations that night at Malacañang. “‘We’re the only country using this in the world,’ sabi naming ganun, sabi niya (Duterte) ‘Yeah, I’ll tell DOH, tigilan na ‘yan’,” the Senate leader further recalled.

On June 21, Malacañang confirmed people would no longer be required to wear face shields outdoors. But on the same day it was announced, President Duterte later that night in the IATF meeting decided to retain the use of face shields both indoors and outdoors. It was at a time there was spike in COVID-19 cases following detection of more transmissible “Delta” variants along with other foreign mutations that have been earlier confirmed already causing local community transmissions in various parts of the Philippines.

Presidential spokesman and concurrent IATF official spokesman Harry Roque made another round of clarifications the next day in his virtual media briefings at Malacañang. “What is clear is this: face shields are no longer mandatory outdoors. The IATF appealed for the use of face shields indoors,” Roque pointed out. The IATF called for the use of face shields in “enclosed/indoor spaces of hospitals, schools, workplaces, commercial establishments (such as but not limited to food establishments, malls and public markets), public transport and terminals, and places of worship,” Roque explained at that time.

The IATF have been fending off calls to ditch the use of face shields. They have insisted the plastic coverings provide additional protection against COVID-19 infection as being supported by science and data. But no less than the WHO has not required or recommended such wearing of face shields. The Philippines is one of the few countries that advocate the use of face shields in addition to face masks, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines noted.

“The face shields are being used to reduce the likelihood of infection through the eyes. That’s not actually an additional layer although it boosts the protection provided by poor mask-wearing practices,” Abeyasinghe pointed out.

Sotto along with some fellow Senators earlier expressed suspicions that some unscrupulous individuals might be making money from the sale of face shields as reason why, perhaps, the IATF refuse to ditch these plastic barriers. Their suspicions got bolstered after the Commission on Audit (COA) released its initial findings of “deficiencies” against the 2020 budget of the DOH spent for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

These allegations are still being looked into by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee virtual public hearings on reported “over-priced” face shields bought at P120 each while other PPEs were damaged goods that were repackaged as new. So far investigated were former officials of the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) allegedly in cahoots with certain Filipino-Chinese businessmen and top executives of Taiwan-based Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp.

Is this some sort of a peace offering of President Duterte on this about face on the face shield requirement?

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