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Face masks remain at the core of the CDC’s recommendations for protecting yourself and others against COVID-19.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to make face masks one of its primary recommendations for preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — some people are turning to plastic face shields for protection.
The plus sides of face shields are definitely the total opposite of the down side of face masks. That is, face shields do not make your face feel warm/hot or restrictive breathing. Hence, there are still people who favour face shields more than face masks because of its comfort.
The question remains, however, whether they’re as effective as face masks.
Also, are there instances when they might be an acceptable alternative, for example when people have breathing difficulties due to preexisting conditions?
Can face shields help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
According to Dr. Michael B. Edmond, MPH, MPA, MBA, chief quality officer and associate chief medical officer for University of Iowa Health Care, and clinical professor of infectious diseases at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, plastic face shields can reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
This is because the main way of transmission on COVID is through droplets. With face shields, they are excellent at preventing droplets from coming into contact with the nose, mouth, and eyes, which are the body sites that the virus enters to establish infection.
However, we still do not have any data yet about whether or not face shields alone can help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus from an infected person.”
How effective are face shields?
While plastic face shields can provide some protection to the wearer against contracting the virus, how efficient are face shields compared to face masks.
“At this point, we simply don’t know”, Edmond said. There are no published studies making the comparison.
However there is a study that found that face shields could provide better protection than face masks in protecting the wearer from the cough of a person 24 inches away.
On the other hand, another study that was done following an outbreak of COVID-19 in Switzerland. In this study, none of the people wearing masks tested positive for the virus. Several of the people wearing only face shields, however, did test positive.
Conclusion? Face shields are a good supplement to face coverings, but should not be used in their place.
“There’s no such thing as too many weapons against the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Joy Henningsen, clinical assistant professor, VAMC Section, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. “The more protection, the better.”
“Face coverings, regular hand washing, physical distancing, and staying home as much as possible are very good tools. Add a face shield to all of those requisite practices and you go from ‘good’ to ‘great,’” she said.
Are plastic face shields a better alternative than cloth masks for certain people?
At first glance, it might seem that face shields would be a good alternative for certain populations, such as those who rely on lipreading for communication or those who have difficulty breathing.
Unfortunately, Henningsen said face shields are only a supplement to face coverings.
They should not be replaced masks — nor should people believe they provide the same level of protection.
Getting the most benefit from a face shield
However, should you still prefer the benefits of a face shield, here are 3 tips from experts to get the most out of it.
1. Always wear a face shield with a mask
Henningsen explained that face shields give the most benefit when you wear them along with a face mask.
“Cloth face coverings protect others,” she said. “The altruism you show by wearing one is a kindness to others, and that kindness is returned when someone wears their mask for you. That’s when the real magic happens, when both parties are wearing them. My mask protects you; your mask protects me.”
“Adding a face shield is the icing on the cake and confers protection to you, the wearer,” she added.
2. Make sure your face shield fits properly
“The shield should come to the level of the chin or below in the front,” said Edmond.
He said that it should almost reach the ears on the sides and “there should be no gap between the forehead and the front of the shield unless there is a cover over the gap. Otherwise a droplet could come through the gap and land on your face.”
3. Clean and disinfect your face shield after each use
The CDC suggests referring to the manufacturer’s instructions, if available.
If there are no instructions available, they suggest cleaning with a neutral detergent and warm water to remove any visible soiling, followed by a clean water rinse.
They then recommend disinfecting the face shield, preferably with a chlorine-based solution. Alcohol can damage plastic and glues over time. In addition, it may remove any antiglare or antifogging properties.
Rinse again with clean water to remove any residue.
Air dry or use clean paper towels to remove any moisture.