With the government’s recent announcement that the wearing of face masks is now voluntary (except in health care facilities, medical transport vehicles, and public transport, where it is still required), many are asking— should I still wear a face mask?
‘Voluntary’ means people will need to decide for themselves when and where they will use masks.
So what is the best guidance for this? The University of the Philippines’ TV UP is holding a series of webinars titled ‘Stop COVID Deaths,’ and in their recent episode, they tackled the question, ‘To mask or not to mask?’
According to resource speaker Dr. Marissa Alejandria, the answer to this is, “Yes, we encourage everyone to wear masks indoors,” particularly those who are at high risk for severe COVID-19.
Dr. Alejandria, who is the director of the UP Institute of Clinical Epidemiology, first explained the context of where we are in the pandemic. She said there is a declining trend in the number of cases and deaths globally and locally. However, “variants continue to emerge,” most recently the XBB, XBC, and BQ.1, that are descendants of the predominant variant BA.5, which is an Omicron variant.
Less deadly than the Alpha and Delta variants at the height of the pandemic, Omicron is highly transmissible and its cases are predominantly mild, especially among those who are vaccinated and have received booster shots.
Vaccines, Dr. Alejandria added, remain effective in preventing hospitalization and death but are not transmission-blocking.
Among Filipinos, the vaccination rate for primary (first set of) doses is around 70 percent, but for booster coverage it is less than 50 percent. This needs to be increased, she said.
The transmission of the coronavirus is still ongoing, she explained further, so the virus is still mutating.
“The mode of transmission is still the same,” she said – “person to person via respiratory droplets that can enter through the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth” via activities such as coughing, sneezing, singing, and talking.
Dr. Alejandria said the coronavirus “can be aerosolized into fine respiratory droplets especially in enclosed areas without good ventilation, where air flow is not good.”
You can also get COVID, she said, “if you touch your mucus membranes with your contaminated hands or hands that have touched contaminated surfaces.”
She warned that “even if cases are decreasing, there are still variants, and there is still a benefit to wearing masks.”
She explained that masks work two ways—they can be source control, to block the wearer’s exhaled droplets, and thus prevent or reduce the risk of the ill person’s spreading the virus; and as filtration for wearer protection—they reduce the inhalation of droplets and thus increase the protection of healthy individuals.
“Individual benefit increases with increasing numbers of people using masks correctly and consistently,” thus masking has community benefit as well.
Masks are safe and do not have side effects, Dr. Alejandria pointed out.
She cited several studies that point to the benefits of masking.
Among those she mentioned was one that studied an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which found that “the use of face coverings on board was associated with a 70 percent reduced risk of infection.”
Cross-sectional surveys in the U.S. and Europe, she added, have shown that “universal masking in the community reduces infections, mortality, and hospitalization growth rates.”
An economic analysis using US data showed that “increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to US$1 trillion or about 5 percent of GDP.”
Dr. Alejandria also said the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), an alliance of more than 160 health professions organizations in the country, issued on October 29 a statement on voluntary mask wearing indoors.
They highly recommend everyone to continue masking, especially those at higher risk, particularly the elderly, immunocompromised, and those with comorbidities; those in close contact with these groups of people; and those in an enclosed space or crowded outdoor space, whether for work, travel or leisure.
Dr. Alejandria and other doctors at the webinar also pointed out that mask wearing also helps prevent the transmission of other respiratory diseases such as influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and chronic respiratory diseases.
There was a decrease in the incidence of these other diseases during the pandemic, and this is a very good reason to continue wearing masks.
To watch the webinar in full and find out more information I couldn’t fit here, visit the Stop COVID Deaths Facebook page.
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The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), through its Intertextual Division and with Pinoy Reads Pinoy Books (PRPB), will hold a discussion of writer-painter-musician RM Topacio Aplaon’s latest novel Topograpiya ng Lumbay on November 19, 2022, 1:00 p.m. at the CCP Little Theater Lobby.
The discussion, led by writers Danim Majerano and Gerome Dela Peña, will introduce Aplaon’s latest novel, the sixth in his seven-volume Imus series.
Topograpiya ng Lumbay, published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2020, won the 39th Manila Critics Circle and National Book Development Board (NBDB) National Book Award for Nobela sa Filipino.
The activity, part of CCP’s celebration of National Book Development Month, is free and open to the public. For details, see the CCP Intertextual Division’s Facebook page.
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Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO