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The Confusing Face Shield Saga: Why the Philippines Can’t Give It Up

You still need to wear it.
by Arianne Merez
Jun 22, 2021
Photo/s: Jerome Ascaño

In the latest round of ever-changing COVID-19 protocols, Filipinos were again left confused, this time, over when and where to use face shields.

For months now, face shields have been part of every Filipino's basic gear against COVID-19 along with face masks. It's a must in commercial establishments and public transport.

The use or non-use of the plastic gear became a hot (and baffling) topic in the past few days after government officials and some lawmakers issued contradicting and confusing statements on the use of face shields. The advice changed several times in a single day on June 17 and 21.

The confusion

It started last week. Senate President Vicente Sotto III was first to announce on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte ruled to limit the use of face shields in hospitals. But Cabinet Sec. Karlo Nograles denied the supposed ruling on the same day, saying the matter is up for discussion by the government's inter-agency task force (IATF) on pandemic response.

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By lunchtime, Malacañang, through Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque, confirmed the supposed easing on the face shield rule as announced by Sotto only to issue a statement hours later that the IATF would appeal it.

Prior to Sotto's announcement, several officials floated the idea of easing the face shield rule such as Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. COVID-19 treatment czar, Usec. Bong Vega, even said that he thinks face shields can be removed outdoors.

On Monday morning, Nograles said it's "status quo" for the wearing of face shields--meaning Filipinos should continue using it in public places.

At noon on the same day, Roque said face shields were no longer required in outdoor spaces. 

"Ang malinaw po ganito, hindi na kailangan ng face shield sa labas kasi hindi naman po 'yan inapila ng IATF," Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

He said the IATF only requested to keep the rule on the mandatory wearing of face shields in the following places:

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  • indoor spaces of hospitals, schools, workplaces, commercial establishments
  • public transport and terminals
  • places of worship

The clarification

After much talk on whether face shields should still be worn and where, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night finally clarified once and for all the policy. Yes, face shields should still be worn--outdoors and indoors.

Turns out, as the President said, he was only "shooting the breeze with the congressmen" when they discussed face shields. Duterte said he never wanted to ease the policy on its use.

"I never said with finality that we will do away with the face shield," Duterte said, apologizing for the confusion.

"I cannot afford to place the nation, the national interest of the Republic by just, you know, sometimes adopting this and being lenient to this. I said, I know that it is a very tedious, if you may, but it is really to prevent a disaster of our nation," he said.

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For those who are still unsure, face shields should still be worn in both outdoor and indoor public spaces, including public transport. Think of it as the usual policy before last week's baffling announcements.

Roque on Tuesday defended the "flip-flopping" remarks of officials on the use of face shields, citing "supervening events" as the reason.

Wala pong mali mag-flip flop kung meron kasing mga supervening events... Depende kung ano ang nadidiskubre ng siyensya, kinakailangan marunong tayo mag-adapt,” Roque said in a press briefing.

Why can't we give it up?

The wearing of face shields on top of face masks in all public places was first made mandatory in December last year as the country prepared for possible spikes in COVID-19 cases due to the holiday season. 

But unlike face masks which were made mandatory in all countries during the pandemic, face shields were not.

 Why can't the Philippines give it up?

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It's because the additional layer of protection provided by face shields is still needed by the country given the spread of new virus variants, the President and health experts he consulted said.

"We may experience a second wave much more serious than the first," Duterte said.

"...We cannot afford it. Iyong nangyari sa ating, ‘yung first wave, it has depleted really the resources of government. Now, another one would be disastrous for this country. That is why the stricter you are, the better," he said.

Infectious disease specialists Dr. Edsel Salvana, and Dr. Anna Ong-Lim both recommended keeping the face shield rule.

"It would be nice to have an extra layer of security na even if hindi naman required, the TAG (technical advisory group) will still recommend to continue to use face shields even outdoors, especially with the threat of the Delta variant," he said.

Dr. Ong-Lim explained that several studies have shown that using face shields along with face masks has been seen to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections.

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"Dahil po sa proteksyon na maaaring ibigay ng face shield at sa patuloy na pagdami ng COVID-19 variants na napatunayan naman nating mas nakakahawa, inirerekomenda na ipagpatuloy ang pagsuot ng face shield sa labas ng bahay. So this is recommendatory, it’s strongly recommended," she said.

With the country still reporting around 6,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, Dr. Ong-Lim said Filipinos should continue wearing face shields since many are also yet to be vaccinated.

"Habang mataas pa po ang bilang ng mga kaso ng COVID sa ating bansa at habang marami pa rin po ang hindi nababakunahan, we strongly recommend na mas maigi po 'yong magdoble-ingat para maiwasan ang tuluyang pagdami ng mga kaso," she said.

For now, whether Filipinos like it or not, face shields are still a must.


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