By: Jhon Alfred Hechanova
Editorial Assistant, Publications & Information Office 
     In a press conference via Facebook live stream held on August 29, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) publicly announced the implementation of face-to-face classes in higher education, highlighting that COVID-19 vaccination is not anymore a requirement for f2f classes.
     Chairperson De Vera presented the timeline for conducting Face-to-Face classes during the COVID -19 pandemic from March 2020 to March 2022. He emphasized the evolution of class implementation policies, from completely distance learning to limited in-person classes.
     He also discussed the CHED Policies for face-to-face classes in higher education, such as CHED DOH JMC No. 2021-004, CMO No. 01, s. CMO No. 05, s. 2022 2022, as well as CMO No. 06,s 2022, issued in recent months, covering various aspects of how universities should open their campuses safely.
     Moreover, Prof. De Vera presented data demonstrating high vaccination coverage in Higher Education, ranging from 70% to 90% on HEI personnel and 40% to 70% on students, as a result of their aggressive school-based vaccination program, which began in September 2022.
     "We have continuously been urging our students. I have gone across the country to participate in the vaccination program, so slowly we make our faculty our students conscious of the importance of vaccination and slowly protect them," he added.
     On the other hand, Dr. Razel Nikka M. Hao, DOH Director, discussed the current status of the risk classification for the pandemic nationally, mentioning the decline of COVID-19 cases across the Philippines, where approximately 73 percent of all areas are in alert level 1. She also tackled the decrease in cases across all ages, with data showing that ages 18-25 years old have not changed, and ages 26-59 continue to be the highest contributors in COVID Cases.
     Meanwhile, Dr. Ralph Elvi Villalobos, a pulmonary medicine specialist at the University of the Philippines, discussed the virus's most recent development, or the Omicron Variant. He discussed how this variant differs from other COVID-19 variants in that it is more transmissible and it can infect even vaccinated people. It does not cause severe diseases, unlike the delta and alpha variants which cause severe illnesses. He emphasized that according to the available research on the Omicron variant, vaccination is the primary reason why the variant only leads to fewer hospitalizations.
     With this, Chairman De Vera announced changes in policies on in-person classes, stating that regardless of vaccination status, 𝐬𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐇𝐄𝐈𝐬 𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐥 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐟𝐚𝐜𝐞-𝐭𝐨-𝐟𝐚𝐜𝐞 𝐜𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐬 𝐞𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞 𝐢𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐲. Other considerations will depend on the HEIs, which teaching modality they will use to effectively teach students, and if they will still implement safety parameters such as body temperature checks and hand sanitizers.
     "𝑺𝒕𝒖𝒅𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑯𝑬𝑰𝒔 𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒐𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒍 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒏𝒐𝒘 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒊𝒑𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆-𝒕𝒐-𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒔𝒔𝒆𝒔 𝒓𝒆𝒈𝒂𝒓𝒅𝒍𝒆𝒔𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒗𝒂𝒄𝒄𝒊𝒏𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒕𝒖𝒔. 𝑻𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒊𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒔𝒊𝒈𝒏𝒊𝒇𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒑𝒐𝒍𝒊𝒄𝒚 𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆," said Prof. De Vera.
     Also, the CHED Chairman encourages HEIs to continue to follow effective strategies for student and faculty safety, such as the Minimum Public Health Standard (MPHS), continuous development of COVID-19 response protocol, information campaigns on the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines, and participation in the DOH "PinasLakas" booster shot campaign.
     Meanwhile, CHED Executive Director Cinderella B. Jaro clarified that the safety seal certification is only optional, as to the implementation of in-person classes; whether or not HEIs want to conduct complete face-to-face classes in all of their degree programs will remain at the discretion of the institution.