In Davao, some folks are hesitant over optional wearing of face masks

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DAVAO CITY, Philippines — As many have welcomed the national government’s move to allow the optional wearing of face masks outdoors through Pres. Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.’s executive order (EO), some Davao folks are worried about the possible rise of COVID-19 cases after the city government declared it will abide by the new policy.

Hesitant with the new law, Mercy Partis, 53, a mother of two said it can possibly cause more harm to her children while at school and during their daily commute.

“I think it’s not safe yet. The COVID is still here and I just cannot allow my children to take off their masks even when they are outdoors. We don’t know who they mingle with. It’s dangerous,” Partis told davaotoday.com.

Meg Tan, a vendor outside a public school here, is worried because “some people are not careful.”

While the government eases the public’s suffering, she said “it can also give additional harm because many are disregarding the danger of the virus” amidst the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. She is afraid it will lead to another community lockdown.

“I have observed many who don’t wear face masks and they cough or talk in public. Suddenly, news will reach you they are already sick, positive with COVID. What happens if wearing masks becomes optional? Many just don’t care with abandon, especially when police authorities are not watching,” she said.

Existing laws

Marcos Jr. has approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to loosen the strict implementation of the minimum public health standards despite opposition from the health sector and some groups due to poor turnout of booster vaccination and continuing COVID-19 transmission.

EO No. 3 which took effect immediately upon its publication allowed the optional wearing of face masks “in open spaces and non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.” However, it still encouraged those not fully-vaccinated individuals, senior citizens, and immunocompromised to keep their masks on and to always observe physical distancing.

Dr. Ricardo Audan, chief of the Southern Philippines Medical Center, told davaotoday.com he still prefers wearing face masks but is amenable to the new law provided that an individual is in a non-crowded place and already got his/her booster shots. He added, for the health sector that accommodates patients with COVID, it is still required to always wear facemasks.

Meanwhile, City Health Office acting head Dr. Ashley Lopez has asked Mayor Sebastian Duterte to extend the mandatory wearing of face masks until the end of this year so the city government can evaluate whether to lift the existing policy or not.

“We are still imposing the mandatory wearing of face masks because it is what is stated under our city ordinance,” Lopez said.

The local government has an existing City Ordinance No. 0307-20 passed in July 2022 that imposes corresponding penalties of P500 for the first offense; P2,000 for the second offense; and P5,000 or one-month imprisonment for the third offense to an individual caught not wearing a face mask in public places.

Dr. Michelle Schlosser, spokesperson for the city’s COVID-19 Task Force also clarified the city government will still penalize those caught violating the ordinance as face masks are still required in public places, including public transportation like jeepneys, taxis, and buses.

“In areas such as enclosed and indoor spaces without proper ventilation, we strictly implement the minimum public health standards. Therefore, if you violate it, you will still be penalized just the same under our city ordinance,” she said. Kath Cortez/davaotoday.com

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