The Philippines last week became the lone country in the world to mandate the use of face shields, supposedly to help temper the dreaded surge in COVID-19 cases after the Christmas and New Year holidays, when friends and families typically gather to celebrate the season.
The wearing of “full coverage” face shields together with face masks used to be required only when going into enclosed spaces such as malls or using public transportation. But on Dec. 14, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) issued the edict for citizens to wear a face shield in all public places.
The decision was made as, according to the Department of Health (DOH), the surge in COVID-19 cases after the holidays is no longer a question of if, but of how soon and by how much.
According to the Octa Research Group, a spike in cases has already begun in the National Capital Region. Octa’s Dec. 21 report said the “period of declining trend in cases” in NCR “has now ended,” with “significant positive growth in new cases observed.”
Based on DOH figures, confirmed cases nationwide have reached 462,815 as of Dec. 22 with 9,021 deaths. “It is in this light that we believe, based on our analysis of the data and of the past trends in the NCR, that a surge in its early stages has already started in the region. This is a serious cause for concern,” warned Octa. It noted that the reproduction rate in NCR—the number of people that one COVID-19 positive case can infect—has increased from 1.06 to 1.15 from Dec. 14-20, and is rising.
Octa emphasized, however, that the surge in COVID-19 cases was still in its “nascent” stage and could be mitigated or even reversed if protocols are strictly followed.
But will the mandatory use of a face shield really do what the IATF and DOH expect it would?
There is scant scientific basis to support it. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization do not list the wearing of a face shield among its top recommendations to fight the disease, only going as far as to say that a face shield is primarily used to protect the wearer’s eyes. “At this time, we do not know how much protection a face shield provides to people around you,” the US CDC said.
Indeed, every other country in the world that has managed to flatten the curve, such as New Zealand or Taiwan, was able to do so without requiring the universal use of a face shield.
The DOH, however, is standing by the use of face shields, believing in the “Swiss cheese” approach, in that multiple measures such as social distancing and the use of a face mask plus face shield should cover up the “holes” or deficiencies of using just one or two.
But just as soon as the policy was announced, the DOH itself muddled up the directive by issuing exemptions to the blanket rule. Those who already have difficulty breathing through a face mask may not wear a face shield, it said. Now it is also considering exempting cyclists after howls of protest from bikers who said that using a face shield above their face mask would obstruct their view and make it even more difficult for them to breathe.
The cities of Valenzuela and Pasig have gone ahead and exempted bikers, recognizing the dangers of using a face shield while cycling. Various departments are set to issue a joint order to list down other exemptions to the face shield rule.
Shouldn’t this move have been better done before the face shield policy was mandated in the first place?
Some nine months from the beginning of the pandemic, the administration’s knee-jerk, topsy-turvy policymaking remains emphatically in place, where evaluations and caveats are done after a decision has been peremptorily announced. The lack of rigor, the poor planning, the inability to talk among themselves to fine-tune policy—administration officials, it seems, are unperturbed by the grand disarray at the top that further vexes and confuses an already anxious public. Remember the motorcycle barriers?
Compounding the incompetence is the unwillingness to apply the rules to themselves and their kind. Thus, it only hurts the DOH and police campaigns to ban parties or social celebrations of more than 10 people when Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s birthday party was allowed to gather almost 50, with little social distancing among guests and many not wearing a mask, based on pictures posted online.
Like Palace mouthpiece Harry Roque, presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo has conveniently gotten away with singing in a public space—even if the government said singing was discouraged—because, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government, he had “apologized.”
Filipinos have largely accepted that the Christmas holidays this year will be far less festive because of the pandemic. But the burden will be considerably lightened if they see that the sacrifices they are being asked to make are demanded of their leaders, too.
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