Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the questionable Pharmally procurement revived the face shield debate that started last year. Can the piece of plastic really protect us from COVID-19?
There was no easy answer. Even the Secretary of Health, Francisco Duque, was unsure despite being one of the policy makers who mandated the wearing indoors and outdoors. Otherwise, he would have just answered directly the question of the Senators on why use face shields rather than point to Dr. Edsel Salvana and others. Even President Rodrigo Duterte, claimed by his supporters as the “best and the brightest” heading a team of “best and brightest” officials, had been changing his mind on the use of the plastic being uncertain if it really works (see also this link). Because of the mandatory face shield policy, the Philippines appears to be only country in the world that mandates the use of said plastic as a protection against COVID-19. But are plastic visors really effective against the new coronavirus?
France’s health ministry is clear: They are not. And this had been supported by a number of studies that confirm what we earlier know — the virus is airborne and aerosolized droplets just move around the face shields with ease.
According to Siddhartha Verma, Manhar Dhanak and John Frankenfield in their paper “Visualizing droplet dispersal for face shields and masks with exhalation valves” published in the journal, Physical Fluids, “Over time, these droplets can disperse over a wide area in both the lateral and longitudinal directions, albeit with decreasing droplet concentration.” This is shown in the video below.
If the face shields are not that effective with the Secretary of Health clearly unsure of the basis for the plastic visors, then why are these being enforced?
Apparently, the Senate hearing uncovered that the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) had bought a lot of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face shields from a questionable firm, Pharmally. Though intended for government workers only, these items are piling up in a government’s warehouse and needed to be disposed of. Face shields are mandatory in hospitals but given the limited number of hospitals in the country under the Department of Health, those plastic visors only occupy space and depreciates in time. Hence, the policy mandating the same to everybody so that the plastic visors will become a common item and that government offices, be these hospitals or not, will be forced to procure the said item from PS-DBM. Note that PS-DBM is mandated only to procure common use items and sell the same to other government offices.
Because the plastic visors also became mandatory, importers and smugglers alike are now cashing in on the item. The geniuses of the government, however, did not consider these so while PS-DBM is selling the face shields to government offices at PhP 124, the street value of one piece plastic visor is now as low as PhP 5. Given the huge difference in price, an investigation is indeed in order.
But of course, the ongoing Senate investigation also deals with other issues. These include the billions of pesos-worth purchase from a corporation with a capitalization of only PhP 265 Million; the lack of due diligence of the PS-DBM to study the background Pharmally which turned out to be incorporated by some individuals wanted for criminal acts in other countries; the alleged connection of Pharmally’s incorporators to a government official and/or former economic adviser to President Duterte; and the effect to the local industry of the questionable transaction with Pharmally, among others.
Moving forward, Senate President Tito Sotto asked that the “geniuses” behind the face shield policy to appear before the Blue Ribbon Committee in the next hearing. Hopefully, they can shed light on the real reason for the face shield policy and address the comments like “Nawalan na nga kami ng trabaho, pipilitin pang bumili ng face shield na wala naman palang silbi“.