Marcos signs order allowing voluntary use of face mask outdoors

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. signed an executive order making the wearing of face masks outdoors optional, Malacañang announced Monday.

In a press briefing, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz Angeles said Executive Order No. 3, which has been published in the Official Gazette, “shall take effect immediately.”

On Sept. 7, the Inter-Agency Task Force recommended the voluntary use of face mask outdoors, which was then verbally approved by the president.

Angeles said Marcos favored the recommendation since the country is only 6% away from the wall of immunity, wherein at least 80% of the eligible population has received their first booster shot.

However, the order noted that “not fully-vaccinated individuals, senior citizens, and immunocompromised individuals are highly encouraged to wear their masks, and physical distancing will be observed at all times.”

Face masks should still be worn when indoors, inside public transportation, and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained, the order noted.

Angeles said local governments will be tasked to set the standards for the implementation of the order, which includes what can be considered as an open space, and what is deemed good ventilation, among others.

The new policy will be done in phases so that feedbacks can still be submitted on whether or not this works, and how to make it more efficient “so that hopefully by the end of the year we might be able to be voluntarily masked indoors as well,” the official said.

While the Department of Health (DOH) has yet to see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases decline, Health Officer-in-Charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the department supports the optional use of face mask.

“We cannot say that we are looking at the end of the pandemic already as of this time, because the state of endemicity would require that there is high population immunity which we do not have right now,” she said in a House budget hearing.

Vergeire noted they agree with the adjusted face mask policy, but it should not be allowed for the vulnerable population, or when in public transportation, and in areas with poor ventilation.

San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora said he supports the optional use of face masks.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Balitaan on Tuesday, Zamora said the local government will amend its face mask policy that penalizes citizens not wearing masks when outdoors.

The new policy is not seen to affect San Juan’s number of COVID-19 infections given the high vaccination and booster rates in the city, the mayor noted.

Zamora said 245% of the city’s residents have completed their primary COVID-19 doses, 101% have received their first booster shot, while 13% have received their second booster shot.

Local active COVID-19 cases have been ranging from 60 to 70 infections, he added.

Meanwhile, infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said the effect of the voluntary use of face masks has to be monitored, adding that the challenge is how to effectively communicate to people that voluntary mask wearing can only be done in open and non-crowded areas.

"Dapat hindi natin makikita na [We must not see that] it's beginning to send complacency towards the pandemic," he told News Night.

Solante said despite easing the mask rule, the risk for the vulnerable population remains.

"The other gray area there is that if you are a healthy individual and you're taking your face mask off, and you're going back to your household and you have vulnerable people in that household, then that puts them at risk," he said.

Solante stressed that extra care must be taken as the holidays approach and gatherings are expected.

"We need to be cautious about planning gatherings... It is still important to be cautious. Do not go to gatherings if you are high risk or are part of the vulnerable population, if you don't have the first or the second booster, particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised, and particularly the unvaccinated," he said.