Mandaue retains mask policy, won’t put citizens’ safety at risk

·5 min read

DAYS after expressing interest in lifting the mask requirement in open spaces, Mandaue City has now decided to retain its mask policy.

The Mandaue City Council is not keen on amending its mask policy, so the city’s mask ordinance remains in effect, Mayor Jonas Cortes told reporters on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022.

Under City Ordinance 15-2020-1531, the wearing of masks amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic is required in public places, and violators will pay a fine of P5,000.

Cortes said they could not afford to put the citizens at risk once the mask requirement is lifted, stressing that the city is also facing other problems, such as dengue, among others.

After Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama issued Executive Order (EO) 5 making mask wearing “non-obligatory” in Cebu City last Aug. 31, John Eddu Ibañez, executive secretary to Mayor Cortes, had told SunStar Cebu that Cortes was set to recommend to the City Council to amend the city’s face mask ordinance so that masking would no longer be obligatory in open spaces.

Under Rama’s EO 5, masks must still be worn in medical facilities at the discretion of its administrator, as well as by persons who are immuno-compromised, sick and experiencing flu-like symptoms who go outside their homes.

But on Monday, Cortes said they had decided to follow the suggestion of the city’s local health board.

Last Sept. 1, Dr. Dominga Obenza, head of the Mandaue City Health Office had said lifting the mask requirement might not be a good idea considering the Covid vaccines were not yet proven to give 100 percent protection from the coronavirus.

In a separate interview, City Councilor and Chairman of the committee of health Nerissa Soon-Ruiz said the City Council would wait for the directive of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on the matter.

Soon-Ruiz is also encouraging people to obey the health protocols, including wearing of masks and getting vaccinated to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Soon-Ruiz also urged those fully vaccinated to take their booster shots for added protection.

Cebu City Mayor Rama had courted controversy by signing EO 5 that made the wearing of masks optional both indoors and outdoors in the city, as he had not consulted the DOH or the DILG first on his policy that deviated from the national policy that still requires masking in public places amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cortes said he respected Rama’s decision but that the face mask requirement in Mandaue City would remain for everyone’s safety.

Meanwhile, the wearing of masks has already been optional in open and well-ventilated spaces in Cebu Province since June after Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia signed EO 16 making masks obligatory only in closed and/or air-conditioned spaces, as well as for persons with Covid symptoms leaving their homes.

Expert not in favor

On Tuesday, an infectious disease expert expressed opposition to the non-mandatory wearing of masks in Cebu City, saying the mortality rate was still high in vulnerable populations.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, who is also a government coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic response consultant, said he is not in favor of the Cebu City Government’s move to lift the mandatory wearing of masks in all areas in the city, whether open spaces or not, saying the virus continues to linger.

“This is a very dangerous step. This actually is the protocol which should be dropped last amid the pandemic,” he said in a Laging Handa public briefing Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Solante said the bases for easing health protocols amid the Covid-19 pandemic are the booster vaccination and number of cases.

“At this point, if we allow everybody to relax on the wearing of masks, they will become more complacent and they will no longer go for a booster shot because they’ll think everything’s back to normal and there’s no more pandemic,” he said in Filipino.

“We can’t do that because we experience still more cases in the hospitals now of the vulnerable. We need to think of this pandemic, and we will always have to be cautious in telling persons that there is no more pandemic or that cases are now low because there is still this vulnerable population, high risk of severe Covid, and mortality is high in these populations,” he added.

SunStar sought Rama’s reaction on this, but there was no response from him as of press time.

Under EO 6 issued last Sept. 5, the Cebu City Government has now designated Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022 as a trial period for the implementation of EO 5, following objections from the DOH and the DILG on Rama’s issuance of EO 5.

According to EO 6, if a surge in Covid-19 infections happens, the non-obligatory wearing of masks would be automatically lifted and the use of masks made mandatory for all persons.

Decision time

Also on Tuesday, the DILG said the government would decide on the face mask rule this week.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. said he had brought up Cebu City’s policy on face masks to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases as discussed with Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.

Abalos said the national government is expected to release its decision on the country’s mask rule within the week.

“It’s all about mask mandate outdoors, hindi ‘yung indoors ang pinag-uusapan dito, just outdoors. May point of view diyan na we are the only country and Myanmar in the Asean (Association of the South east Asian Nations) na meron pang (that still has the) mask mandate, ‘yung iba wala na,” Abalos said in a television interview.

“Of course, meron naman nagsasabi (there are those who talk) about the vaccination natin, mga booster, et cetera. So we have to weigh everything at yun ho ang pinag-uusapan more or less,” he added.

Abalos said they aim for a uniform mask policy, which will be followed by all the local government units across the country. (HIC, TPM / SunStar Philippines)