To wear or not to wear a facemask

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

That is the question that only a few of us now are contemplating these days. The rest of the population are moving forward and have resumed socializing without facemasks. And I completely understand.

COVID-19 cases are still low despite the election season mass gatherings. Health experts say the number of cases could rise again in the coming months, citing lenient protocols and waning immunity as the reasons. But until we see another sharp rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, people will continue to resume pre-pandemic socializing.

It is in this context that the executive order of Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, making optional the wearing of facemasks in open spaces, has become acceptable to people except our national government officials.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año in a statement last Friday said his department does not recognize Garcia’s executive order and will continue to implement IATF guidelines nationwide, including Cebu. The prevailing rule is that “masks should be worn properly at all times, whether outdoors or in indoor private or public establishments, including in public transportation by land, air, or sea.” There are exceptions, particularly eating and drinking, participating in team and individual sports in well-ventilated venues, and while practicing outdoor sports/exercises.

Yet we all know that the rule now just exists on paper and is not commonly followed anymore. A collective trauma due to last year’s surges, as well as two years of social isolation, do not of course justify ditching science-based health protocols. But instead of turning this into a battle of wits and wills between local officials and national government officials, let us refocus our attention on our vaccination rate.

While the cities of Metro Cebu including Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu, and Talisay, have exceeded the minimum 68% requirement in vaccination rate for an Alert Level 1 status, many areas in the island of Cebu are still struggling with ramping up their vaccination rates.

For me, vaccination rate is crucial in answering the question of whether or not to wear a facemask in an outdoor setting. If I have to remove my facemask outdoors while eating or social drinking with friends, I have to factor in where I am and who am I with. Am I in a well-ventilated place that has a presumed blanket of herd immunity? If the answer is yes, then I feel safer removing my facemask.

Dr. Edsel Salvana from the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group warns that even countries with high vaccination rates now have the highest number of COVID-19 actives cases because they dropped their mask mandates. The good news is that most symptoms are mild and not a cause for alarm.

While it still pays to play safe and be very careful, the extreme and more harmful consequence of iron-fisted regulations is the psychological damage social isolation and limited interaction bring. We long to see each other’s smiles. We crave for gatherings in tables over food and drinks. We want to get together at work and at school again. Two years of more of the same strict regulations are just very suffocating, especially when people see that COVID-19 cases have been down for months.

However, before we start living new normal lives again and be unencumbered by this coronavirus, let us make sure to do our part.  Yes, I miss your company at the table, I miss your smile, I miss your laughter. But first do me a favor. Get that full primary vaccination and booster shots right now if you still have not gotten any. I’m still waiting for that second booster shot. When will they give that to the general public?


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