Health authorities in the Philippines have discouraged using a trendy but controversial mask with a hole in it days after a VICE World News report detailed how the company behind the product tried to silence critics with legal threats.
Since last year, CopperMask PH has been selling copper-infused face masks that feature an alleged antimicrobial layer. While studies have shown that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 can die within hours on copper as opposed to longer periods on plastic, health professionals said the popular face masks in the Philippines have holes that allow pathogens to come in and out, negating any potential benefit.
The company, whose owners have ties with President Rodrigo Duterte and his government, tapped social media influencers and celebrities to promote the masks, which were featured in billboards, newspapers and advertisements.
Last week, VICE World News reported that critics of the CopperMask, including doctors, received cease and desist letters from the company's lawyers. In one prominent case, an Australian doctor and YouTuber named Adam Smith was told to take down his posts, which he refused to do.
The health department was criticized for failing to properly warn Filipinos about the masks when debates over its safety erupted after a major hospital banned its use in January. It previously said the CopperMask “can still prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
But on Monday it changed course and mentioned the mask by name in its warning for the first time.
“We at the DOH do not recommend masks that have gaps on the sides, at the top and the bottom. We are aware that CopperMask has a slit or hole under the chin so it might not be that good of a mask for COVID-19 prevention,” Dr. Rodley Carza, told reporters in a media briefing.
The Department of Health was asked if the government could regulate influencers who use and promote CopperMask as authorities reported a new surge in coronavirus cases.
The Philippines has one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia, with almost 600,000 cases and 12,500 deaths as of Tuesday, March 9.
CopperMask PH did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But as debate over the mask surged in the Philippines, CopperMask PH announced in several press releases earlier in February that they released a 2.0 version featuring the same mask with a hole, but its non-woven fabric has since been updated with an enclosed filter.