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These past several days saw scenes that reminded me of the pre-pandemic times when we would motor to Tagaytay City from Metro Manila. This travel would often take two and a half hours with most of the road jams in the highway leading to Tagaytay from Nuvali in Santa Rosa, Laguna. The recent television news that I saw were those of field reporters on the road and behind them were the long trails of cars, jeeps and whatever vehicle there were backed up right by the South Expressway entrance of CALAX.  The CALAX interchange gives motorists access to and from the Laguna Technopark as well as an alternative route to and from Nuvali and then to the highway to Tagaytay. This Laguna segment is supposed to serve 10,000 cars per day but evidently, we are seeing traffic treble if not quintupled from that as Metro Manilans feeling cooped up this past 6 months trekked en mass to this favorite destination. Imagine all this traffic and all this rush, as if we are done with the pandemic, which we are not.

The cautionary tale to explain our dilemma is the United States and how that country is going through its second/ third wave of COVID19 infections right now. It has been observed that most American cities opened up and let the population off their restrictions or quarantine regulations in July and August – the height of summer vacations and outings and with many Americans on the road, in bars, in restaurants, etc., and not observing basic safety rules like masks, hand-washing and spacing, the crows have come home to roost, so to speak. Today, the US is experiencing a surge of infections hovering around 70,000 per day with several states and cities running out of ICU beds and facilities as well as health workers to take care of those stricken sick by the virus. The rationale behind the summer “loosening” of pandemic restrictions was to boost the flagging economy by letting the population go out, shop, travel, etc., as they please. It is a sound argument but then the virus does not let up even if we wish it to do so; hence America is racing into 8 million COVID infections as of this writing. 

Here at home, we have our own COVID figures at around 350,000 which was 100,000 more compared to about a month ago. Thus we are far from reducing our numbers and in fact we are climbing up to be doubling the number of new cases — 1,500 in August and nearing 3,000 daily now. So I would like to put a little damper to those who were interviewed on TV during the Tagaytay rush; it is far from over yet and going out just to take on the view does not fall under the category of “essential travel” that health experts agree should be the guideline for those who are age 60 and above and who are overweight, have pre-existing health conditions, etc. The virus is still pretty much on the air, particularly dangerous when indoors as in a closed car, with the aircon on, and the vehicle inching along on the four-hour travel to Tagaytay.

So dear readers, friends, fellow commuters and motorists, please do take care. Research conducted by the Duke University School of Medicine on COVID-19 transmissions indicate air-to air transfer specially in closed spaces. Because of the enclosure, the air just lingers around the closed space — even with a distance of one meter (or even two three meters), there is still the possibility of infection if it is within a closed space, according to studies. In Japan, passengers ride the train side by side, but they don’t talk and properly use face masks. The same observation is seen in other countries like Singapore, Taiwan, China, and South Korea where COVID-19 infections have gone down significantly. 

A word to the wise then on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe when you take on that “essential trip:” The Seven Commandments to Revitalize the Philippines Safely was proposed to the IATF by medical experts like former health secretaries Dr. Manuel Dayrit and Dr. Esperanza Cabral, and the dean of the UP College of Public Health, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr. These are guidelines that will help Filipinos mobilize in the new normal. The commandments are: (1) Wearing of proper face masks; (2) Wearing of face shields; (3) No talking and no eating; (4) Adequate ventilation; (5) Frequent and proper disinfection; (6) No symptomatic passengers; and (7) Appropriate physical distancing.

We cannot overemphasize the need for extra caution from the threat of COVID-19. Contrary to false comments or fake news, there is no cure for the virus. Being infected could get you severely ill or dead depending on physiological, vascular, and neurological factors that until now are not well known by the world’s leading virologists. But being aware is being better prepared. Please keep safe.

Peachy Vibal – Guioguio is a PR strategist who has lead communications departments in GMA Network, ABS-CBN, and TV5. She enjoys long drives, taking scenic routes, and finds a thrill going wherever she pleases behind a wheel. She has yet to learn how to replace a flat tire.

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