Health minister defends de-masking decision; Cuenca council votes to maintain local masking policy
Saying the Covid-19 epidemic is “under control” in Ecuador, Health Minister Ximena Garzón said Tuesday that only the emergence of a new, more dangerous variant would cause the government to reverse its decision to drop the face mask decision.
“We have entered a new phase with Covid, with less severe cases and few hospitalizations and deaths, and this led to last week’s decision,” she said. “We maintain a close watch on various indicators and will respond as the situation dictates. If a new strain of the virus emerges that is more serious we will not hesitate to make changes to protect the public health.”
Garzón conceded that there has been a seven percent increase in positive Covid test results since mid-April but said the ministry is focusing on hospital admissions, which she says continue to fall.
Medical associations and several municipal governments have criticized the decision to drop the mask mandate, calling it premature. On Tuesday, the Cuenca municipal council and city health agency rejected the national Emergency Operations Committee decision, saying it will wait until it has more local data before changing its masking policy. Members of the committee acknowledged that “large numbers” of Cuencanos have unmasked following last week’s decision, conceding that the city no longer has the authority to enforce a masking requirement through fines or other sanctions.
Cuenca city health advisor Julio Molina reported that positive Covid-19 tests totaled 247 last week, an increase of 25 over the previous week. “I would like to see more definitive data before recommending changes in our health rules,” he said. “Fortunately, hospitalizations with the virus are low but we must remain vigilant to assure that this continues to be the case.”
In her comments, Garzón said that those with health complications and those who take care of immunocompromised people should continue to wear masks. “We certainly are not advocating that everyone go maskless,” she said. “There are many situations in which masking is still strongly advised. We all must exercise personal responsibility in making decisions that affect our health and the health of others.”