No “zero risk” from COVID-19 in any kind of public gathering

While many people, particularly those religiously following the minimum health protocols, have welcomed the move of the Virac IATF to re-impose a curfew and implement a liquor ban in the capital town, there are also those who believe that it would not be enough to stop the ongoing surge in new COVID-19 cases.
True, the liquor ban ensured that gamblers and drinkers wearing no face masks would no longer be able to congregate at wakes for the dead.
One observer notes that the liquor ban, as well as the national IATF’s prohibition of cockfighting, will not reduce the number of people going to a publicly-known online sabong venue, thanks to the local authorities who have chosen to be deaf and blind for some reason.
True, the curfew will banish from the boulevard, streets and nightspots non-essential persons, youths and children but some say the start should have been an hour earlier, at 9 PM.
Current guidelines call for the strict implementation of the wearing of face masks especially in public places, but rarely do you see police officers and barangay officials accost violators or give them tickets for their wanton disobedience of an ordinance that does not only protect the wearer from getting infected but also prevents others from being infected should the wearer be an asymptomatic coronavirus case.
Pass by the long stretch of the boulevard in the late afternoon and even during the early morning and you can spot many people congregating, some without masks and others with theirs improperly worn.
At the temporary terminals for passenger vans, passengers from the other towns alight from the vehicles without masks, potentially spreading the virus around. In most cases, these public transports are no longer observing physical distancing among passengers.
Although some conferences and meetings called by national agencies and LGUs are held in accordance with health and ventilation standards, including passing inspection by IATF personnel, there are events such as inaugurations, wedding celebrations and relief or aid distribution that defied the physical distancing requirement.
Under the IATF’s latest Omnibus Guidelines on Community Quarantine, gatherings in Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) areas such as Catanduanes are allowed up to fifty percent (50%) of the seating or venue capacity, provided the participants shall strictly observe the minimum public health standards, and the establishments or venues where the gatherings will take place shall strictly comply with ventilation standards as provided for under relevant issuances of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no “zero risk” when it comes to any kind of gathering – especially events that bring groups of people together.
“Regardless of the size of the event, you are at risk from COVID-19 whenever you get together with people,” it says.
While physical distancing of at least one meter can give some protection during public gatherings, all bets are off when the participants remove their masks to eat and drink, enabling virus transmission.
Thus, some DepEd personnel are justified in expressing concern that the division office continues to hold face-to-face trainings and seminars for the island’s teachers, with most of resorts and hotels near the capital town reportedly fully-booked for this purpose.
It may be recalled that sometime ago, a rash of COVID-19 infections hit the division office and public school teachers, with certain division officials criticized for refusing to go into 14-day quarantine as close contacts.
Last week alone, three teachers came down with the virus, while another remains intubated at a local hospital.
Why the division officials are proceeding with the more expensive in-person trainings when they can resort to the cheaper but virtual ones is a mystery.
Perhaps, there is a lot more to be gained from spending all of DepEd’s budget for seminars and conferences in these remaining months of the year than from ensuring the safety of teachers who can attend the same from the safety of their homes or schools?

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