Masks: Should it stay or go now?

September 14, 2022

Wearing masks in outdoor settings is now voluntary. Are we supposed to start shouting hurray?

For a while there, we thought Executive Order 3, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issued Monday, appeared just what the doctor ordered for a nation so tired and weary of covering their mouths and noses for protection against Covid-19.

For more than two years, people have been tied up to the contraption that the joke goes children are starting to ask if human noses and mouths are considered private parts that ought to be covered.

Memes on the subject have sprouted on social media, citing the irony of it all. Expect the same to happen now that the EO has been issued and liberation from the hated mask is at hand.

Just like toga caps thrown during graduation, imagine people encumbered by the contraption throwing these masks in the air as if to say goodbye to a life of confinement and slavery to an unseen virus that has changed the way we live.

But is everybody celebrating? Not when the virus is very much around. In fact, Malacañang has made it clear that enforcement of minimum public health standards will be maintained during the state of public health emergency for Covid-19, which has likewise been extended by three months starting Monday.

The EO also emphasized that immunocompromised individuals, senior citizens, and those who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are “strongly encouraged” to continue wearing masks even while outdoors.

“Masks shall continue to be worn in indoor private or public establishments, including public transportation by land, air, or sea, and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the EO stressed.

Although Covid-19 cases appear to be on the decline, health experts, however, expressed caution over the decision to relax the mask rule. They argued that removing the mask rule and easing other health protocols would hurt the vaccination drive as it would give people the impression that they need not get booster shots.

“Most of us agree that it’s not yet time to really put off masks outdoors, even in the downtrend of cases,” infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante warned as he defended the mask rule. “We need to think of other aspects of how we can improve, and we should focus on boosting the population rather than tinkering with our policies, which for me have been very important.”

The low number of Covid infections, Solante pointed out, is due to the fact that we are the only country that has been mandating masks for several years now and stuck with it even when the cases have been going down.

“We focused on protecting the population both indoor and outdoor, and for me, it will be the last policy that should be relaxed,” he said.

Indeed, removing the mask rule could slow down government immunization efforts, particularly the booster doses. Knowing the Filipino psyche, the relaxation could be taken to mean that we don’t need those boosters at all.

Those welcoming the relaxation of the mask rule see unforeseen harm with the continued use of the contraption.

Law enforcers, for example, contend that it hampers the identification of criminals on security camera images. An immediate benefit of the relaxation, they contend, would be the protection from the air pollution that is choking our cities.

Truly, this pandemic has accelerated the erosion of privacy in our society. It could only be a matter of time before software companies prime the population to accept facial recognition in everyday life. Masks may also provide some degree of privacy against virtual stalking at street level.

With the balancing act that we have to perform between health and the economy, it’s a cinch that the new EO could be the subject of another intense debate among those on either end of the spectrum.
So, should we be celebrating?

Paraphrasing the hit song of The Clash, we better ask the question, “Should the mask stay or should it go now? If it goes, it will be trouble. If it stays it could be double.”

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