Since face masks are typically made of cloth, they’re somewhat permeable. Because of this, it’s possible for smaller droplets to pass through the mask and potentially infect others. A plastic face shield greatly reduces the chances of that happening.
But how much more effective is a shield when compared to a mask? According to a study conducted back in 2014, a face shield was able to reduce the level of exposure to a virus that was projected as little as 18 inches away by as much as 96%.
“A face shield provides eye protection, which is important when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus,” Dr. Snyder told Business Insider. “A shield can also keep us from touching our eyes and face, which is another way that coronavirus can spread.”
Eye protection isn’t the only benefit a face shield provides. Shields are also more comfortable to wear and don’t obstruct the wearer’s ability to breathe. Additionally, they’re much easier to keep clean and reuse as compared to cloth masks, which are less durable and usually require machine or hand washing (drying them in the dryer is also recommended).
Because a shield sits in front of the face as opposed to on it, it’s easier to communicate while wearing one as well. Face shields are also transparent, which allows the hearing impaired to read the lips of the person wearing it.
Who might want to wear a face shield?
Snyder said that face shields are especially important for medical staff, who face a much higher likelihood of exposure to infectious diseases compared to the general public. Because a face shield provides coverage of the nose, mouth, and eyes, the chances of exposure are greatly reduced, keeping healthcare professionals safer and healthier. When used in conjunction with a surgical mask, the risks drop even further.
“Face shields are part of every medical professional’s personal protective equipment,” Snyder said. “Because they interact with more potentially infected people on a daily basis, they require a greater level of protection than the average person.”
According to Snyder, cloth face masks offer more than adequate protection for the community at large. “As long as individuals continue to socially distance themselves from others, and wear a mask while in public, a shield simply isn’t necessary,” he said. “The level of exposure for most people simply isn’t great enough to warrant wearing a shield.”
Face shields may not be necessary for the general public, but some experts feel they can still benefit essential workers operating in fields outside of healthcare. For instance, bus drivers, grocery store clerks, and convenience store workers all have the potential to interact with infected individuals on a daily basis. When school resumes in Philadelphia, teachers will wear face shields, too.
Dr. Anthony Fauci also recommends wearing goggles or some form of an eye shield to further avoid infection. The CDC currently recommends eye coverings for healthcare workers, though Fauci says that it’s important to cover each mucosal surface and that “if you really want to be complete, you should probably use [an eye shield].”
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