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Palace defends changing policy on face shields, says it is science-based

By Bim Santos Published Jun 22, 2021 8:10 pm

Malacanang has defended its changing policy on the wearing of face shields, which it maintains was based on the emerging threat of the more contagious Delta COVID-19 variant in the Philippines.

"Walang mali sa pag-flip-flop kung mayroong supervening events. Kaya tayo nag-flip-flop dahil sa Delta variant (There is nothing wrong with flip-flopping if there is a supervening event. We flip-flopped because of the Delta variant)," palace spokesman Harry Roque said today, June 22, during the televised palace briefing.

"Naka-base po sa siyensiya itong desisyon tungkol sa face shield. (The decision on face shields is based on science.)"

Yesterday, President Rodrigo Duterte backtracked and said that face shields should be worn for indoor and outdoor settings. Duterte's announcement came just days after he was reported to have told lawmakers, including Senate President Sen. Tito Sotto III who tweeted about it, that face shields should only be worn inside a hospital, a statement that was confirmed by the palace as a new policy.

“I will apologize to the Filipino people that this thing was being discussed openly and many thought that we were ready to do away with (the face shield)," Duterte said yesterday night during his pre-recorded address. “As of now the face shield is on." 

Alethea de Guzman, director of the Health Department's Epidemiology Bureau, also defended the use of face shields during the palace briefing today. De Guzman cited a local study saying that using face shields with face masks and physical distancing provides 99% protection against contracting the COVID-19 virus. 

DOH director De Guzman presents a study saying that using face shield with face mask and physical distancing provides 99% protection against the COVID-19 virus

De Guzman also raised the threat of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India. Compared to the Alpha variant, first detected in the UK, which can infect 4-5 people, the Delta variant may infect 5-8 people according to De Guzman. As of today, there are 17 known cases of the Delta variant in the country.

The present requirement for the use of face shields for indoor and outdoor stems from a Dec. 14, 2020 memorandum by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. The memo was issued during that time to prevent a feared surge of COVID-19 infections during the holiday season.

Since then, amid recurrent calls to scrap the policy absent recommendations from health institutions to enforce the use of face shields, local proponents have cited two studies.

One is from the Journal of the American Medical Association or JAMA, and another is from The Lancet medical journal.

But Dr. Benjamin Co, an infectious disease expert, noted certain issues with the two studies. On the JAMA study published August last year, Co said that it was not a rigorous peer-reviewed research as it was tagged as a “research letter.”

"That was not a randomized clinical trial. It is not a very good study," Co told PhilSTAR L!fe in a phone interview.

For The Lancet study, Co said that the research also had certain limitations.

"The study was also not randomized so it is also not that very convincing," said Co.

In research studies, randomizing participants is primarily meant to eliminate bias, which could skew the research findings.

Co also noted that both studies were done specifically for healthcare workers, and did not take into account its potential application in a community.

"I agree there is a science there. But there is no science in the community, which means that the policy should be appropriate to the community, because the way we use face shields in the hospital is not the same in the community," said Co.

"What I am saying is the science is there, but it's different from policy. For lack of a better term, when you are using a face shield, it should be in the right and proper setting as you can not use the studies being in the health care setting and then directly apply it to the general population. It is misguided."

(Banner photo by Miguel de Guzman / The Philippine Star)