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Faced out

Finally! Face shields are no longer required in most parts of the country. It took almost two years, but the great and learned people responsible the country’s pandemic response have finally come to their senses and Filipinos no longer have to attach the supposedly extra layer of protection over our faces that the rest of the world never forced upon their people.

While the rest of the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with mass testing and a proper contact tracing system, Filipinos were told to keep calm and wear face shields. That is what we have been doing since March 2020 every time we go out in public, whether indoors or outdoors. Despite forcibly equipping us at our own expense with an added 1% of protection on top of the 95 percent protection that face masks provide, the Philippines still ended up being among the nations worst hit by the pandemic.

Twenty months of face shield use by an entire population has generated a lot of expense (and profit of course,) frustration, and ungodly quantities of plastic trash. Our own Department of Environment and Natural Resources estimates that there are currently 65 million face shields in circulation. I’m not sure if that number includes those that have already been discarded but no matter how you look at it, that is a lot of useless plastic that our own government forced us to purchase.

It’s no wonder that the face shield has become the symbol of the country’s failed pandemic response. It is costly, ineffective, unnecessary, wasteful and generally bad for the planet.

If you come to think of it, if it hadn’t been for the upcoming election season that forced most traditional politicians to suddenly grow balls, spines and brains as they try to make a good impression on voters once more, they might’ve stuck to their guns and we could’ve been forced to wear face shields indefinitely. That is another reason to thank God for elections.

Let’s also be thankful that the Department of Health didn’t push through with their plan to make us wear googles instead of face shields.

Now that they are truly useless, what do we do with face shields?

One thing is certain: do not throw them away.

The first reason is our experience with the flip-flopping style of governance in this country. In a country where drug matrices are conjured from thin air, we should know by now that even royal decrees can be reversed if our great leader wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Aside from that, we also have to contend with the whims of the IATF that can change alert levels or community quarantine status or whatever it is they call it, whenever they feel like it. It makes sense to have a trusty face shield always ready for action.

Another reason not to throw away face shields is the plastic trash they generate. As responsible citizens, we should wait until the government that decreed we wear face shields comes up with an environmentally friendly method of disposal. I’m sure that with the right incentives, they can come up with something pretty quick. After all, there should be an environmentally-conscious crony out there capable of coming up with a Pharmally-style face shield disposal facility.

Aside from the obvious reasons, face shields can also be quite useful so we don’t have to throw them in the trash bin. Even if they provide marginal protection against aerosolized COVID-19 particles, we can definitely use them as PPE when frying fish. My kids find them effective against the annoying “hamlok” insects when we are up in the mountains. I am sure the creative and resilient Pinoy can find many uses for this accessory that has been part of our lives for 20 months.

Of course there are those who have found comfort in face shields and the beauty with the word “voluntary” is that they can still use it as much as they want. Nobody should judge them for wanting an added layer of perceived protection by wearing face shields because it’s their face. There will also be establishments that will still require face shield use, so we might have to keep a couple of face shields handy just in case we need to enter privately owned premises with such rules.

Now that we are free of the face shield, maybe we can start catching up with other global best practices when it comes to COVID. I don’t know if it’s too late now that our vaccination program seems to be catching up, but we still haven’t caught up with global standards when it comes to mass testing and contact tracing systems.

Hopefully the willingness of our health officials and retired generals to see the lack of science behind face shields has also opened their eyes towards the science behind the other measures that have been effectively used in other countries that had better success in fighting the pandemic.*

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