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Why Face Shields Can’t Replace Masks Right Now

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By:

Laura Tenbus

July 21, 2020
*This is a rapidly changing situation. This article was written on July 21, 2020. For the most up-to-date information, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov*

The use of face masks or cloth coverings to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a common part of our daily routine. But as summer progresses and temperatures rise, many have become resistant to them and are left wondering if alternatives exist. One of the alternatives in question is the use of a face shield (a piece of clear plastic worn like a visor that surrounds the face) to substitute a cloth face covering. While shields may feel more comfortable in the heat, they are not a viable replacement for masks at this time. This has sparked some debate among the medical community, but there is simply not enough data to know if shields worn by themselves are effective.

While a significant amount of research has been performed around cloth face coverings, almost no research has been done about the effectiveness of face shields alone for prevention. Cloth face coverings and masks are proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the same cannot be said about face shields. Respiratory droplets, which are the primary way the virus spreads, travel in every direction, so a shield that only covers the front and sides of the face may not offer as much protection.

Due to their close proximity to infected patients, healthcare workers frequently wear face shields in addition to medical masks as an extra layer of protection. While the risk is lower for the general public, people may choose to use a face shield with a mask as an extra precaution. With that being said, a face shield is not fool proof. “The plastic of a face shield is a much better surface for the virus to survive for extended periods of time (versus cloth, which is not), so it’s significantly more likely to become contaminated and harbor a live virus if it’s not disinfected often and in the proper manner,” explained Molly Hyde, MHS, CIC, Infection Control Practitioner at GBMC.

Because there isn’t a standard design for non-medical face shields, there is also no guarantee that a face shield will fit correctly. “Depending on the fit and size of the shield, it may not fully protect the wearer,” said Molly. While face masks may feel hot (click here for tips to make them more comfortable), they form a tight fit around the face that prevents infected particles from spreading to others – something shields do not necessarily prevent against.

“Currently, the CDC is recommending the use of masks for everyday activity – not face shields – because we know masks are a very effective source of control and that universal masking prevents the spread of COVID-19,” Molly explained. While there isn’t data supporting the switch to face shields today, with new innovation and more research they could become a valuable tool in the future to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition to many other safety measures, GBMC requires all people who enter a GBMC HealthCare facility to wear face masks for the protection of patients and staff.

It is critical for people to continue to follow public health safety measures regarding masks and other precautions to stop the spread of this virus. “We must hold the ground we have gained and continue to stay at least six feet away from others, wear a face mask in public settings, avoid touching our face, and wash our hands frequently,” said John B. Chessare, MD, MPH, President and CEO of GBMC HealthCare. Until there is a vaccine, it is up to the public to stop COVID-19. GBMC urges everyone to stay vigilant, uphold their guard, and proceed with caution as states begin to reopen.

*Click here for more information and articles about the coronavirus (COVID-19)*
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