Arguments vs. relaxation of the mask mandate in schools during face-to-face lessons

A teacher sprays alcohol on students’ hands to protect against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the first day of in-person classes at a public school in San Juan City, the Philippines, August 22, 2022. ( Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Positions have been raised against a member of an independent pandemic monitoring group who claimed that masking “isn’t as effective” as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof. Nicanor Austriacopriest and molecular biologist of the OCTA Research Groupcalled for the face mask mandate to be dropped among students as face-to-face classes partially resumed last August.

“Our children have been suffering for two years, they have been locked down – almost one of the longest in the world of a lockdown – without school,” he said in an online forum on Tuesday.

“We have to go from mask to mask to real face to face for our children. And since the data shows that masking is not as effective, we should be ready to move there as soon as possible for the sake of our children,” Austriaco added.

“The mask can prevent individual spread, but is less effective in preventing population spread,” he said.

Another OCTA Research Fellow, Guido Davidpointed out that Singapore and South Korea have already relaxed their face mask mandates.

But those countries have high vaccination rates against COVID-19, he added.

Meanwhile, Austriaco’s comments alarmed some Filipinos who thought it was “irresponsible”.

“I have never seen so much irresponsibility from a research group,” said a twitter user said in response to the molecular biologist.

“Austriaco previously claimed the #OmicronVariant was a ‘blessing’. Now it’s sowing anti-mask sentiment,” another online user wrote, adding the hashtags “#CovidIsNotOver” and “#WearAMask”.

“Anyone who claims to care about children in the midst of this pandemic should understand the risks of #LongCovid, among others,” social media said. user continued.

Another Filipino social media user reminded Austriaco that COVID-19 can be spread through aerosols containing virus particles.

“Father. Nick, why? Masking is effective in po since we are dealing with airborne disease, especially in crowded and enclosed spaces,” said the twitter user said.

Doctor Tony Leachonformer Special Advisor to the National COVID-19 Task Force, also shared his two cents on the matter.

“The government has just published an EO [Executive Order] liberalize face mask outside. Children are the last to be vaccinated,” he said. tweetedreferring to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s Executive Order #3 which facilitates the use of face masks outdoors.

“They should wear face masks to protect themselves. We have to be careful because we will only know the impact of this ET in 2 to 4 weeks. Haste is wasteful,” Leachon continued.

The government on Monday allowed the voluntary removal of face masks from uncrowded, well-ventilated outdoor settings.

The easing comes amid concerns about the country’s low booster coverage and concerns that some may not be following minimum public health protocols, which include proper cough etiquette.

On Monday, the health department said that while more than 72.7 million Filipinos are already fully vaccinated, only 18.5 million have received boosters.

The easing of the mask mandate also comes as OCTA Research reported a “slow increase” in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila from Sunday.

The group said it saw an increase in the reproduction rate of the virus in the capital region, from 0.93 on August 31 to 1.11 on September 7.

The reproduction number indicates how many people can be infected by a COVID-19 patient. A number greater than one indicates that “infections are increasing”, according to Guido.

Masking is effective

Experts in the global community have learned that wearing a face mask and practicing strict physical distancing measures can limit the transmission of the virus, which can be spread through respiratory droplets or aerosols containing virus particles.

“A review funded by the World Health Organization and published in the scientific journal Lancet earlier this month concluded that people should stay at least one meter away from others and that wearing face masks appears to limit the transmission of coronavirus. “, reads a 2020 Washington Post article. .

Researchers led by a Texas A&M University professor believe that wearing a face mask in public “corresponds to the most effective way to prevent human-to-human transmission”.

“Our study makes it very clear that the use of a face mask is not only helpful in preventing infected cough droplets from reaching uninfected people, but is also crucial for those uninfected people to avoid breathing in the tiny particles. atmospheric gases (aerosols) that infected people emit when they speak and which can remain in the atmosphere for tens of minutes and travel tens of meters”, Mario Molina said, quoted by Science Daily.

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