“May Christmas party? Buksan ang bintana at electric fan. Mas ligtas pa kung outdoor ang venue. Maligayang Pasko? Kaya natin ‘to!”
Sounds familiar? It is part of the public service advisory by the authorities to supposedly caution people about holding social gatherings this upcoming Holiday Season at a time when a pandemic is raging on.
The reminder through the form of a text message is from the Department of Health, Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19.
It was sent to every mobile subscriber with the help of the DICT and the National Telecommunications Commission on Friday morning, a few days before Filipinos greet the month of December.
Open-air spaces a must
The text message stressed the importance of proper ventilation in order to minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus disease, especially in enclosed, indoor spaces.
Last October, the DOH advised the public to hold activities in open-air spaces, install exhaust fans in comfort rooms and avoid recirculating air inside vehicles to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“When an activity cannot be moved into an open air setting, opening windows and doors should be put into practice to facilitate the flow of outdoor air into the space, when possible,” part of its department memorandum reads.
The health agency added that people should not be situated directly in the flow of air coming from fans and air-conditioning units as it may facilitate the transmission of the virus “by directing air from infected individuals to others in the room.”
The DOH said that device settings that encourage recirculated air when no ventilation takes place should be avoided as much as possible.
A professor of engineer and an aerosol expert notes that “most airconditioning systems use a large fraction of recirculated air to save on energy costs.”
“Air conditioning could recirculate the virus and keep it in the room longer than if the windows were open,” Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech said to an American magazine.
The United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention also acknowledged the potential airborne transmission of COVID-19 in “indoor environments without good ventilation” or those without exhaust vents and open windows.
“It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes,” its website said.
“There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes),” it added.
“In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk,” CDC further said.
Meanwhile, some Filipinos who received the text advisory were puzzled over the message that appeared to encourage people to hold physical parties for the holiday season.
“When other governments are telling their citizens to stay home and avoid gatherings, this is what we get from ours. Ano ba talaga ang gustong mangyari ng gobyerno ni Duterte?” a Twitter user said as she shared a screengrab of the text message.
“Instead of giving tips such as opening windows during Christmas parties, shouldn’t the DOH instead tell us not to hold such frivolities?” another online user asked.
“Weird lang kasi akala ko hindi advisable na mag actual/physical Christmas Party kasi nga pandemic,” a different Filipino said in response to a post featuring the advisory.
“Kunsintidor rin talaga, ang alam na may COVID-19 pa ay,” a Facebook user commented as a screengrab of the advisory made its way to an online group.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who is also a co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, said on Friday that physical Christmas parties are approved in the National Capital Region and in areas under general community quarantine.
The parties in these areas should not exceed 10 persons while those held in modified general community quarantine areas should not exceed 50% of its venue capacity.
“Sa bawat pamilyang Pilipino na nagtatanong about paano ‘yung Christmas party, nagpalabas na po ng guidelines ang DOH, for NCR at sa mga areas na GCQ. Ang recommendation at guidelines ng DOH, hindi dapat sosobra sa 10 tao sa isang lugar,” Nograles said.
“Doon sa lugar na ‘yon, kailangan well-ventilated, kung maaari, naka-mask. Of course ine-encourage natin na same household pero syempre, kung may bibisita man, hindi dapat hihigit sa sampu. Tapos kung kakain kung maaari, huwag buffet style, kanya-kanyang plato, utensils, baso. Ito ‘yung reminders ng Department of Health,” he added.
“Sa MGQC areas naman, alam naman natin ‘yung guidelines kung sa isang lugar, hindi dapat sosobra sa 50% pero syempre, ang panawagan ng DOH is kung pwede ilimit to 50 persons only, pero pwede naman ‘yung ano, basta hindi lang hihigit sa 50% noong capacity ng venue,” Nograles further said.
He noted that the DOH is encouraging gatherings at MGCQ areas to be at a maximum of 50 persons only and for unwell people to refrain from attending.
Recently, OCTA Research Team, composed of professors from the University of the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas and Providence College in the United States, warned that the country might see a gradual rise of COVID-19 cases based on data from November 18 to 24.
The group said that Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Western Visayas have reported an increase of new cases in the past several days and that the trend may continue if there is lax compliance on minimum health protocols.
“We encourage the government and LGUs to enforce the current GCQ limit of 10 persons per gathering in the NCR and to discourage office parties and other social events, especially as we approach the Christmas season,” it said.
“Family gatherings should be limited in size and should be celebrated outside to mitigate transmission,” it added.
Nograles previously said Filipinos are encouraged to hold virtual gatherings for the holidays through the use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom to minimize physical contact.
“Alalahanin natin itong mga maximum capacities pagdating sa mass gatherings at kung maaari, kung pwede naman, kung pwedeng mag-online, online na lamang para safe po ang lahat,” he said before.
HPAAC on Friday afternoon clarified that they did not intend it was okay to party this Holiday Season following the text message.
“Should they decide they will push through in the context of the current situation, then the reminder is for people to continue public health standards, particularly considerations of ventilation when they plan their activities,” Dr. Anna Ong-Lim of HPAAC said.
She added that the intention of the message was to acknowledge that some people will still physically celebrate Christmas with others.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, meanwhile, said that DOH “has not officially released” the message and stressed that the health agency is “recommending alternative (online) activities during this holiday season.”
“We all know that these Christmas parties might be a cause for a superspreader event and we do not want for that to happen because it might cause further infections in the community,” she added in an interview.