THE wearing of face masks is no longer required in well-ventilated and open spaces in the Province of Cebu, according to Executive Order 16, s. of 2022, issued by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia on June 8, 2022.

Under the order, mask wearing would be required only in closed and/or air-conditioned areas.

The use of masks would now be “optional” in well-ventilated and open spaces, although persons are “highly encouraged to continue to wear their masks especially in crowded outdoor areas.”

Persons who are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) like fever, cough or runny nose, would still be required to wear a mask at all times when they leave their homes, according to the EO.

The Province of Cebu excludes the highly urbanized cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.

On April 1, 2020, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases issued Resolution 18, mandating the wearing of masks by residents when going out of their residences in areas under enhanced community quarantine, to stem the transmission of the virus that has caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mask mandate was extended to all areas, regardless of quarantine classification, under the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines issued on May 22, 2020.

Two years later, the mask mandate continues to be implemented amid the emergence of variants and sub-variants of the virus with police enforcing arrests or reprimanding residents not wearing the masks.

But Garcia said with the continuing decline in Covid-19 cases in Cebu province, it is appropriate to take steps toward the new normal.

In April 2021, Garcia had already said that fining people who don’t wear masks was “anti-poor.”

That is why in the same year, Garcia ordered the police to provide free masks to Cebuanos who were not wearing them.

Sought for comment, Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, chief pathologist of the Department of Health (DOH) in Central Visayas, said: “This latest EO clearly reiterates the use of face masks — indoor, enclosed/ air conditioned spaces and further includes those who may show symptoms. Whether to continue to wear or not the mask even in outdoor settings becomes a personal choice.”

“Understanding one’s risk of exposure should be a better guide in interpreting and following the said EO,” Loreche added.

However, in Manila on Thursday evening, the Department of Health maintained that the wearing of face masks as part of the minimum public health standards had made a big difference in preventing the further transmission of Covid-19.

In a message to reporters, the agency reiterated that masks can only be removed in public under certain circumstances such as when eating and during the conduct of sports and other physical activities in well-ventilated areas.

“Scientific evidence supports the use of best-fitting face masks in reducing the transmission not only of Covid-19, but also other infectious and respiratory diseases including Monkeypox, should it reach our country,” it said.

“The Covid-19 virus is still present and the pandemic is not yet over. Individuals can still catch the virus, most especially our vulnerable population,” it added.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said the mandatory wearing of face masks in the country would remain until his last day in office.

The Province of Cebu remains on Alert Level 2 until June 15, except for Talisay City, and the towns of Alcoy, Borbon, Oslob, Pilar, Santander and Tudela, which are under the less restrictive Alert Level 1.

As of June 7, the country had a total caseload of 3,691,892 Covid-19 cases, of which only 2,437 were active cases. (ANV, CTL, TPM)