Citing economic and medical concerns, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the policy requiring people to wear plastic face shields as an added protection against COVID-19.
In a letter dated Sept. 20, 2021 addressed to the President and copy furnished to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Velasco said the face shield requirement only poses an added financial burden to Filipinos who are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
He also noted the absence of solid medical proof that the use of a face shield is effective against the transmission of the deadly coronavirus.
Velasco asked that Filipinos be allowed to not use face shields “when going out of their homes or indoors, including in malls, commercial establishments, and public transportation.”
“May I humbly and respectfully recommend that the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the Department of Health both under the Executive Department reconsider the mandatory use of plastic face shields for the general public (under IATF Resolution No. 88 and Joint Memorandum Circular 2021-0001 on the Clarificatory Guidelines on the Mandatory Use of Face Shields Outside of Residence for COVID-19 Mitigation, respectively),” he said.
“The use of face shields has made little difference in protecting against the transmission of COVID-19 over the proper use of masks alone and imposes an additional burden to poor Filipino families already reeling from the adverse effect of the pandemic on their livelihood,” Velasco told the President.
Assistant Majority Leader and Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles backed the Speaker’s appeal.
“This is a good suggestion by the Speaker which we hope the IATF will consider given the current economic situation,” Nograles said.
He also agreed with the Speaker that the cost of a face shield of about P20 to P50 is already a substantial amount equivalent to the cost of a meal for poor Filipinos.
“They will prioritize buying food over face shields, which offer no guarantee of protection against COVID-19,” said Nograles.
Velasco cited the COVID-19 Low Income Household Panel and Economic (HOPE) survey conducted by the World Bank and supported by the Australian government showing a grim picture on the impact of the pandemic on the poorest 18 million poor and vulnerable households, comprising 70 percent of the population, and residing mostly in rural areas in Visayas and Mindanao.
Among others, Velasco said the HOPE survey showed that 56 percent of Filipino families have less food on the table.
“COVID-19 has worsened hunger among Filipinos. The cost of a face shield of about P20 to P50 is already a substantial amount equivalent to the cost of a meal for these poor Filipinos, and mandatory requirement of the same takes away money for food from these families,” Velasco explained.
He noted that the World Health Organization, as well as the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend the use of eye protection, such as goggles and face shields, only for those providing direct care to patients with COVID-19.
Velasco said that studies conducted by physician-researchers of Wayne State University School of Medicine indicate that combining the use of face shields and masks made little difference over the use of masks alone.
Even in the Philippine context, Velasco said the same result on the doubtful efficacy of face shields is evident.
He cited an article by researchers from the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, the country’s leading professional association of specialists in infectious diseases and microbiology.
They concluded that the use of face shields may help doctors and health care workers against splashes and sprays of blood or other bodily secretions but does not give additional protection against respiratory aerosol such as those present in COVID-19 transmission.
Velasco endorsed the findings of the epidemiology experts and recommended requiring the use of face shields plus face masks, apart from PPEs, “only for enclosed spaces with high transmission of COVID-19 such as hospitals and quarantine facilities.”
He then requested the President to “reconsider the mandatory use of face shields for the general public because protection against airborne transmission is already sufficiently addressed by the proper use of facemasks.”
Moreover, Velasco, who advocates against single-use plastics and plastic pollution, said the requirement “adds to the already worsening garbage problem in the country considering the flimsy construction of these disposable face shields.”
“The rest of the world universally considers the following as effective interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19: proper wearing of face masks, regularly washing or disinfecting of hands or high-touch surfaces, and ensuring proper ventilation in indoor spaces,” Velasco said.