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ILOILO, Philippines – Health officials in Iloilo province on Tuesday, May 9 (?), appealed to citizens to continue following public health protocols and not to discard their face masks permanently, despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration about the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency.
Dr. Maria Socorro Colmenares-Quiñon, Iloilo’s provincial health officer, cited the first reported case of the COVID-19 Omicron XBB.1.16 subvariant or Arcturus in the province, and the gradual increase in COVID-19 infections as reasons to remain vigilant and maintain health protocols.
“We have seen an increase in cases for nearly a month now. We must not become complacent,” she said.
Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. said that despite the spike in cases and the first reported Arcturus case in Iloilo, there is no need to modify COVID-19 protocols in the province, as Iloilo’s healthcare utilization rate (HCUR) and Average Daily Attack Rate (ADAR) remain low.
Data from the Provincial Health Office showed that Iloilo’s ADAR stands at 0.26%, while its HCUR is at 37.52%.
Defensor said the face mask rule and other health protocols would be followed in the province based on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Executive Order No. 260 s. 2022, in line with the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines.
“We will continue to follow the same rules outlined in the Alert Level System 1 protocols,” Defensor said.
Under Alert Level 1, face mask use in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation is optional, “provided that non-fully vaccinated individuals, senior citizens, and immunocompromised individuals are strongly encouraged to wear face masks at all times in indoor and outdoor venues.”
The use of face masks, however, is mandatory in other open spaces or outdoor areas where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Local health officials urged the public to receive their vaccine boosters and continue wearing face masks, not only to protect themselves against COVID-19 but also other infections.
“I encourage everyone to use face masks, as they provide protection not only against COVID-19 but also other infectious diseases. Masks are effective in preventing the spread of infections,” Quiñon said.
While acknowledging the WHO declaration, she pointed out that the threat of COVID-19 persists, with ongoing fatalities and mutations.
“We are pleased with the de-escalation of the health emergency status. Concerns about the infection and its high mortality rate have diminished due to widespread vaccination. However, as warned by the WHO, the virus is still present, causing fatalities and mutations,” she said.
Quiñon reminded the public of the importance of vaccination and booster shots, which offer the best protection against the virus and potential complications.
“Unvaccinated individuals face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and even death. We strongly encourage senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities to receive their second booster shots without delay,” she said.
As of Monday, 1,292,616 people, or 88.43% of Iloilo’s population, have completed their primary vaccination series (first two doses). However, only 290,488, or 19.87% have received the first booster shot, while 25,410 others, or 1.74% have received their second booster.
Meanwhile, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas issued Executive Order No. 55, series of 2023, reinstating the voluntary use of face masks in the city.
Based on the city hall order, wearing face masks indoors and outdoors is now voluntary, except in healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles, and public transportation.
Immunocompromised individuals, senior citizens, individuals with comorbidities, pregnant women, and those who are unvaccinated are “strongly encouraged” to wear face masks.
In April, the city government reintroduced the mandatory use of face masks in enclosed and crowded areas due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The City Health Office also urged residents to receive their booster shots, as 2,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines are still available at health centers.
Dr. Roland Jay Fortuna, assistant city health officer, said 49.61% of the city’s target population for vaccination or 335,172 people have received booster shots, surpassing the regional coverage of 14.76%. – Rappler.com
Francis Allan Angelo is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.