DepEd drops masking, just as Covid hits nearly 4,000 school-age children

MORE than two months since School Year 2022-2023 opened and saw the return of face-to-face (F2F) classes, almost 4,000 school-aged children have been hit by coronavirus disease (Covid-19), according to the Department of Health (DOH) Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

The news comes after the Department of Education (DepEd) issued an order Wednesday allowing the voluntary wearing of face masks in indoor and outdoor spaces in schools amid the resumption of full face-to-face classes.

In a press conference Friday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said around 3,900 school-aged children were reported to have been infected with Covid-19 from Sept. 1 to Nov. 3.

“There have been a number of infections among students during the time that we started gradually opening the schools and having face-to-face classes,” said Vergeire.

She, however, said all recorded cases were mild infections among adolescents aged 12 to 17.

“We have not registered any severe cases nor any deaths among students because of Covid-19,” said Vergeire.

She said this is the reason they continue to support the holding of face-to-face (F2F) classes in public and private schools.

“It shouldn’t be a hindrance to continue the full implementation of face-to-face classes,” said the DOH officer-in-charge.

Add to this, she said, is the importance of physical presence in schools on the children’s mental health.

“The benefits of face-to-face classes would outweigh the number of mild infections that had been experienced by our students because this is very essential for the mental health wellness of our students,” Vergeire said.

School Year 2022-2023 opened nationwide on Aug. 22 and was marked by the return of F2F classes.

Last Nov. 2, the Department of Education (DepEd) began the full implementation of F2F classes in all public schools, meaning five days a week of in-person classes, while private schools have been given the option to continue blended learning.

In Central Visayas, DepEd 7 Director Salustiano Jimenez said the department had not recorded any students, teachers or teaching personnel testing positive for Covid-19 since the start of the school year last August.

No masks in school

The DepEd has similarly allowed the voluntary use of face masks in schools and classrooms in accordance with Executive Order (EO) 7, issued by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last Oct. 28.

EO 7 scraps the mask mandate outdoors and indoors, except in health care facilities, medical transport vehicles and public transport by land, air or sea.

Last Wednesday, Nov. 2, Vice President and concurrent DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte issued DepEd Order 48, allowing the optional wearing of masks in indoor and outdoor spaces in schools, amending its Order 39.

Order 39 allowed students not to wear masks only in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, as well as in playing sports and other physical activities.

The new order is effective immediately.

The DepEd reiterated that the elderly, individuals with comorbidities, immunocompromised persons, pregnant women and unvaccinated and symptomatic individuals are still encouraged to wear masks.

Cebu Province

In Cebu, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia issued a memorandum on Thursday, Nov. 3, allowing voluntary mask wearing in indoor and outdoor settings in Cebu Province, except in healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles and all public transportation in line with Marcos’ EO 7.

A copy of Garcia’s Memorandum 30-2022 was posted on the Facebook page of Sugbo News, the Capitol’s official news portal, on Friday, Nov. 4.

Garcia’s memo was based on EO 7, series of 2022, issued by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Oct. 28 that mandates the voluntary wearing of face masks in indoor and outdoor setting with some exceptions.

Garcia’s memo was addressed to all municipalities and component cities and to all DepEd school division superintendents under the Province’s jurisdiction.

In September of this year, Garcia announced that she was contemplating further relaxing the face mask policy in the province by making the wearing of masks optional indoors.

The plan was a follow-up to her EO 16, which made the use of masks optional in open and well-ventilated areas last June.

The issuance of EO 16 drew warnings from the Department of the Interior and Local Government and protests from the DOH for deviating from the then Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases protocol that mandated the wearing of masks in public places.

Labor advisory

Following the President’s issuance of EO 7, Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma issued Labor Advisory 22 last Wednesday making the wearing of masks in workplaces in the private sector optional, also except in healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles and public transportation.

However, the advisory said, employers may implement a policy requiring the wearing of masks, taking into account the hazards and risks of the workplace environment, industry requirements and incidence of other communicable diseases. (HDT, TPM / SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES, JKV)