Third province to make it optional after Cebu, Iloilo
Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson has made the wearing of face masks optional in outdoor spaces, following in the footsteps of Cebu province, which defied a national mask mandate to guard against the spread of COVID-19, Cebu City, and neighboring Iloilo province.
“The wearing of face masks in outdoor and open spaces shall be optional for all persons within the territory of Negros Occidental,” Executive Order 22-45, signed by Lacson, said.
The EO said the wearing of face masks in indoor spaces as well as in hospitals and other medical facilities remains mandatory.
As of Sept. 10, Negros Occidental still had 168 active COVID-19 cases.
On Sunday, the Department of Health said it will conduct a national COVID-19 booster week from Sept. 26 to 29 to ramp up the booster uptake among the general population.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) also recommended this, in line with its proposal to make the wearing of face masks outdoors optional by year-end, Lorra Angelia Sayson, DOH head assistant to the officer-in-charge, said.
After Cebu went off on its own, the IATF recommended making the use of face masks voluntary outdoors—but President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not yet approved the measure.
Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, DOH officer-in-charge, said the recommendation only covers low-risk individuals and will apply to low-risk settings.
The voluntary use will be done in phases to ensure the population’s protection against COVID-19.
Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. on Saturday issued an executive order making the wearing of face masks optional outdoors, noting the province’s high vaccination rate and its low number of COVID-19 cases.
In contrast, Davao City will still strictly enforce mask use, said City Health Officer Dr. Ashley Lopez.
He said Davao, the hometown of Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio and former President Rodrigo Duterte, continues to impose the mandatory wearing of masks because it is what is stated under the city ordinance.
“Other provinces and cities do not have such ordinances. They just follow the IATF but for Davao City, we are unique because we have this ordinance to follow and impose,” he said.
Meanwhile, the independent OCTA Research Group said the number of COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila has increased along with its reproduction number and positivity rate.
OCTA Research fellow Guido David, in a tweet, said that the National Capital Region’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate went up from 12.1 percent on Sept. 2, to 13.3 percent on Sept. 9.
The positivity rate refers to the number of people found positive for COVID-19 against the total number of individuals tested.
The NCR’s reproduction number or the number of people infected by one case also climbed from 0.93 on Aug. 31 to 1.11 on Sept. 7.
“The reproduction number has increased to greater than 1, which means infections are increasing,” David said.
The one-week growth rate in the region, recorded from Sept. 3 to 10, was at 6 percent. This was a big jump from the -17 percent recorded from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3.
Vergeire said the wearing of face mask provides 70 to 80 percent protection against COVID-19 while Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the DOH would still have the “major say” on the fate of the face mask policy.
“All government agencies are to implement sector-specific policies, especially providing incentives to encourage individuals to get boosters,” she told radio dzBB. “We are partnering with different agencies to make this happen.”
Sayson said that throughout the four-day national booster week, the government is hoping to administer more booster shots to achieve its PinasLakas target by Oct. 8.
The PinasLakas campaign aimed to give booster doses to 50 percent of the country’s eligible population or 23.8 million Filipinos within the first 100 days of the Marcos administration.
The IATF said the voluntary use of face masks outdoors would be implemented if the country’s COVID-19 booster uptake improves.
However, based on the DOH’s national COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, only 18.5 million Filipinos have received their booster shots as of Sept. 9.
This is still far from the 72.7 million Filipinos who are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Also over the weekend, Senator Christopher Go said Filipinos should remain vigilant despite the IATF recommendation to make the wearing of face masks voluntary outdoors.