Face Shields Can Protect People Who Can’t Wear Masks

Masks help slow the transmission of COVID-19. They offer excellent protection to people around mask wearers and some protection to the wearer. They are a fantastic tool to fight the virus. However, many people can’t wear them for medical reasons. For them, face shields may be the next best thing.

In May, we wrote about the fact that if 80 percent of us work masks that were 60 percent effective, we could flatten the curve. Because COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, masks are essential for everyone. Even those of us who appear healthy can spread COVID-19. But, because of medical issues, a mask is not always possible. Face shields can protect people with COPD or other problems that stop them from wearing a mask.

An editorial in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” showed that face shields lower your exposure to the virus by 96 percent when you are 18 inches away from a cough, and 92 percent when you are six feet away. It might seem backward that they are better close up. The reason is that, if someone coughs straight at you, it will block it, but if someone coughs near you, it can come in from the sides.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to shields. They are more comfortable than masks. People can breathe more easily while wearing a shield. They don’t make glasses fog up, or make the area under the mask feel damp. They protect your face and eyes as well as your mouth and nose. Many viruses can infect people through their eyes. We don’t know if that is true for COVID-19, but it is possible.

It also stops you from accidentally touching your face. It acts as a reminder when you attempt to scratch your cheek and hit plastic. A face shield also doesn’t need as much adjustment as a mask. Many of us find ourselves adjusting our masks when they slip. Whereas a shield “doesn’t really put you in a position where you’re touching your face so much, because it’s not as cumbersome to wear,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja pandemic preparedness expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

But, the virus can live on the plastic of a face shield far longer than it can on the material of a mask. You can throw a mask into the washing machine when you get home. You have to scrub a face shield. And, while they protect the wearer from catching COVID-19, they don’t protect people around them.

It protects you, the wearer,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center. “But if you cough, because this face shield is away from your face, those droplets can still get out better than if you have a mask on, where they basically get sucked up by the mask itself.” So, while the shield protects you, it won’t protect anyone near you.

I think face shields are a great option,” Dr. Michael Edmond, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Iowa Health Care. “One great advantage this time of the year is that they aren’t as hot as a face mask is. For most people, it feels easier to breathe when you have on a face shield.” In warm weather, having a shield that sits on your head on a face band can be more comfortable than a mask that goes over your mask, nose and cheeks and can make you sweaty.

Doctors wear both masks and shields while working near patients they believe have COVID-19, but that might not be possible for many people. Doctors are in a high-risk situation while most of us are in the supermarket.

I don’t think we have data yet that a shield is better or worse,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schucat. “We are recommending for the consumer, we are saying the cloth face mask is what we are recommending.”

While face masks may possibly be more effective, they simply aren’t an option for some people. That’s why we’re thrilled that the researchers are saying face shields are effective.

Banner Image: erikcederb, 3DVerkstan, Wikimedia Commons
July 02, 2020
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