COVID-19 Crisis: Optional face mask use outdoors recommended by IATF

Are you sick and tired of wearing face masks outdoors as a means of protection from COVID-19? Did you hear about the Cebu City government’s bold move on having voluntary use of face masks on a trial period? Looks like things will change here in the Philippines and its efforts on rising up from the pandemic’s effects as the Inter-Agency Task Force of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recommended the voluntary use of face masks in open spaces by year-end, according to a GMA Network news report pointing to Malacañang and the Department of Health (DOH).

To put things in perspective, posted below is the excerpt from the GMA news report. Some parts in boldface…

The Inter-Agency Task Force of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has recommended the voluntary wearing of face masks in open spaces by year-end amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said Wednesday.

In a press briefing, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the IATF’s recommendation is to make optional the wearing of face mask in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, provided that the COVID-19 booster uptake in the country improves.

“Doon sa IATF, ang kanilang rekomendasyon ay pag-liberalize ng ating mask wearing mandate and make mask wearing outdoors voluntary across the country,” she said in a press briefing.

(IATF’s recommendation is to liberalize our mask wearing mandate and make mask wearing outdoors voluntary across the country.)

Angeles stressed that this is not yet a policy, but the pilot testing of the optional face mask use will be conducted towards the end of the year.

“Ang tuluyan na lifting ng mandatory mask mandate ay ipi-pilot towards the last quarter of 2022, provided na may improvement doon sa COVID booster vaccination coverage,” she said.

(The lifting of the mandatory mask mandate will be piloted towards the last quarter of 2022, provided there is an improvement in the COVID booster vaccination coverage.)

Senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are, however, still highly encouraged to continue wearing face masks, she added.

‘Verbally approved’ by Marcos

Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire confirmed such a suggestion by the IATF, saying that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has already “verbally approved” it.

There is a verbal approval from the President when they talk to Secretary Benhur from DILG,” she said, referring to the Secretary Benhur Abalos of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Vergeire said Marcos’ executive order on the matter may be released “immediately,” but he has not given a timeline as to when exactly.

“Everything is being prepared. Nakipagusap na rin naman po tayo. We’ll just wait for the issuance. But definitely, and we think based from the feedback, talagang pabor naman ang Presidente, so the executive order can be issued immediately,” she said.

As you can see above, the recommendation of the IATF is related to the state of COVID-19 booster shots and the efforts to have more people immunized. There is still much work to be done on the part of the national authorities, the provincial authorities and local authorities to have more people vaccinated and boosted. What I find very notable was the Press Secretary’s mention of a pilot testing phase of the optional use of face masks which will be conducted towards the end of 2022. That pilot testing is very related to what Cebu City’s government pushed for. Also notable was the mentioned verbal approval of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. (who is overseas as of this writing) according to the DOH’s officer-in-charge Vergeire.

Let me end this piece by asking you readers: What is your reaction to this new development? Are you eager to see IATF’s recommendation of voluntary outdoor face mask use officially become policy? Do you think the IATF’s recommendation was somehow influenced by Cebu City’s bold move? Are there enough people in your local community who got boosted for COVID-19? Do you think that the anti-vaccine fanatics will distort the meaning of the IATF’s recommendation?

You may answer in the comments below. If you prefer to answer privately, you may do so by sending me a direct message online.

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