Are Face Shields and Face Masks both effective against Covid-19?
Americans in astounding numbers heeded recent government advice and rushed to wear cloth face masks, hoping they might prevent transmission of the new coronavirus. But there’s another option: The clear plastic face shield, already in use by many health care personnel. The new consensus in the medical arena may be that face shields might replace masks as a more comfortable and more effective deterrent to Covid-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began advocating the use of cloth masks to help stop Covid-19 transmission in April of this year, stating that laboratory testing “suggests that cloth masks provide [only] some filtration of virus-sized aerosol particles.” Numerous medical authorities have since suggested that face shields may provide a better option.
Per a physician group in Iowa, to be most effective in stopping viral spread, a face shield should extend to below the chin. It should also cover the ears and “there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.” Shields have a number of advantages over masks, they added. “First of all, they are endlessly reusable, simply requiring cleaning with soap and water or common disinfectants. Shields are usually more comfortable to wear than masks, and they form a barrier that keeps people from easily touching their own faces.”
When speaking, people sometimes pull down a mask to make things easier. With face shields, that isn’t necessary. Further, the use of a face shield is also a reminder to maintain social distancing, but allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.
What about the ability of a face shield to prevent coronavirus transmission?
According to the Iowa medical team, large-scale studies haven’t yet been conducted. However, “in a simulation study, face shields were shown to reduce immediate viral exposure by 96% when worn by a simulated health care worker within 18 inches of a cough. When the study was repeated at the currently recommended physical distancing distance of 6 feet, face shields reduced inhaled virus by 92%.”
Face shields should only be one part of any infection control effort, along with social distancing and hand-washing. While we don’t have hard trials or data on the efficacy of face shields at this time, early data from their use in patients to date is promising. “What’s clear is that their success in hospital settings provides the basis for their utility in the community setting as we relax physical distancing going forward.”
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