DEPARTMENT of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Thursday, September 8, 2022, that students and teachers are still required to wear a face mask while attending in-person classes amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.“Classes are done indoors. Hindi pa ho kasama ngayon ang indoors dito sa ating polisiya. Sana po ang ating mga magulang, magkaron pa rin ng pag-assess ng risks dahil alam natin na ang ating mga kabataan, marami sa kanila ay hindi pa bakunado,” Vergeire said in a television interview.“Ipagsuot pa rin natin ng masks ang ating mga kabataan ‘pag papasok sa school. Kapag uuwi na lang kapag maglalaro, at maluwag naman ang lugar, walang tao, at saka na lang tayo magkaroon nitong optional wearing of mask,” she added.On Wednesday, September 7, the Malacañang announced that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has recommended to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos the lifting of the mandatory wearing of face mask in open, well ventilated and non-crowded areas across the country.While Vergeire said that Marcos has verbally approved the recommendation, the President needs to issue an executive order to make it official.Senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are encouraged to continue wearing face masks in public areas despite having such a policy.Meanwhile, former National Task Force against Covid-19 adviser Dr. Tony Leachon said lifting the mandatory face mask rule is “premature” considering the still low Covid-19 booster vaccination coverage in the country.“I think you need a minimum of around 50 percent to consider lifting the face mask mandate in the outdoors and it’s quite difficult to make a decision if the decision will be fragmented, considering we’re an archipelago region,” he said.“And of course, travels will actually be crisscrossing from site to another, and of course the viral transmission will not be controlled in this particular setting,” he added.Leachon also noted the country’s Covid-19 positivity rate, which is currently at 11.6 percent or higher than the five percent benchmark set by the World Health Organization.“The numbers right now in terms of viral transmission are not actually controlled,” he said.Infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante also expressed belief that it is not yet time for the country to implement the optional wearing of face masks.So far, over 72.6 million individuals in the country were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or 92.98 percent of total target population.Of which, only about 18.2 million individuals received booster doses, which are seen to increase the wall of immunity of a person as the efficacy of the primary series wanes after a few months.Individuals 18 years and above are all eligible for the first booster dose three months after they finished their primary series, while all individuals 50 years old and above regardless of whether they have co-morbidities or none, and 18 to 49 years old with comorbidities are qualified to receive the second booster dose or fourth dose.The government through the DOH recently launched PinasLakas campaign, which aims to administer booster shots to 23.8 million Filipinos until October 8.So far, 2.3 million individuals received booster doses under the program.While the DOH acknowledged the slow uptake of Covid-19 booster shots, Vergeire said they are expecting that by October 8, 30 percent of the target will be boosted.Among the basis of the IATF’s recommendation are the experiences of other Asian countries that lifted their face mask rule.The IATF came up with the decision following the move of the Cebu City Government making the wearing of face masks in all areas, whether open spaces or not, optional. (SunStar Philippines)