To wear or not to wear face masks, that is the question

Dr. Alethea de Guzman, DoH Epidemiology Bureau director. Screengrab

AN official of the Department of Health (DoH) reiterated that individuals should assess the risk before considering whether to wear their masks again or not amid the presence of highly infectious subvariants of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

Speaking at a media briefing on Friday, Dr. Alethea de Guzman, DoH Epidemiology Bureau director, said that with the predominance of Omicron and its subvariants in the country, people should subscribe to their “personal risk assessment” before considering to either wearing or not wearing their mask in high-risk environments.

“We know it is your personal choice, but it is also important that when you make a decision on whether to wear a mask or not, you are aware of the risks you pose to yourself and the people around you,” de Guzman said.

Currently, the country's most prevalent Omicron sublineage based on the number of samples sequenced is the BA.5 subvariant, which also includes the BQ.1 and the BF.7 sublineages, with 12,658 samples sequenced. This is followed by the BA.2.3.20, XBB, XBC and BA.4 subvariants.

On Friday, the DoH announced that four of the eight Filipinos who tested positive from China were only subjected to genomic sequencing by the Philippine Genome Center. Three of them had the BF.7 and one had the BA.5.2 subvariants of BA.5

De Guzman stressed that even if there is an increased number of cases across the globe due to the presence of highly infectious variants, it is not just the “sole determinant” of case increases.

“There are many reasons why cases increase, such as increased mobility and lesser restrictions,” de Guzman said.

The current projections by the bureau based on the Australian Tuberculosis Monitoring Network (Autumn) model show that hospital and intensive care unit occupancy are expected to plateau at around 2,000 to 250 admissions, respectively, if no emerging variants emerge. But these could increase to around 3,556 hospitalizations and 462 ICU admissions had a variant emerged last December.

De Guzman said that while they are optimistic about the World Health Organization's assessment that 2023 may be the end of the emergency phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, they remain wary of the possibility that a more infectious variant may happen this year. This could thwart the disease's move as an endemic one.

She said that endemicity is not just about epidemiological data but is also about the capability of the country to detect and monitor the disease and to control big infection spikes.

“At the end of the day, the better question we should pose is not when will Covid become endemic, but if we have institutionalized our measures if there are increases. That is what we should be answering,” de Guzman added.

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