Amid the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of face masks, another movement has taken hold: people who have tossed their masks and replaced them with plastic face shields. A good amount of science backs using masks to reduce pandemic spread, but the face shield method might not offer as much protection as users think.
Some people have chosen to use face shields for COVID-19 protection. It seems like a good idea on the surface. Face shields are less imposing than masks, with the clear plastic allowing users to express themselves more naturally. People who rely on seeing lips for language comprehension might also view shields as the better choice.
Another reason they’ve become so popular may be their durability. Because they’re made out of plastic, they’re able to withstand the abuse of daily wear while also washing easily using soap and water or an approved disinfectant. So they seem like a great idea.
Face shields also help to block out some of the germs that might otherwise reach the eyes, and people can catch COVID-19 through their eyes.
Some of the studies backing face shield use might look promising, but others have poked holes in their research and there's enough doubt to suggest it may be a bad idea. An article published in Physics of Fluids points out that studies showing high success rates of face shields have failed to take into account the natural flow of air with the breath. Many have relied on the assumption that droplets coming toward a person will hit the plastic rather than their face. This thinking doesn’t take into consideration the airflow created when a person inhales which may draw virus particles up and around the mask, straight into the lungs.
Think about it this way: How much protection would a face shield offer if the wearer walked through a smoky room?
And if the person in a face mask were exhaling virus particles because they were infected, the face shield wouldn't do much at all to protect the people around them either.
Minimizing risks might require that we stop weighing one form of protection over another and instead combine the two. It might seem excessive, but if a bigger COVID-19 wave hits with the upcoming cold and flu season, we could see even greater devastation than we have to this point. New Scientist explains that winter weather conditions that colds and flu viruses find so hospitable may also help the pandemic along, or, at the very least, their added presence could compound the problem by taking up increased resources. And the fact is that the most reliable studies show that masks combined with distancing are our best bet for controlling and halting the virus.
Face shields do offer some benefit in terms of protecting the eyes, but on their own, they might be less effective than they look. Users should be aware that, shield or no shield, they could be exposing themselves to the virus if they go out without some type of covering over the nose and mouth and if they are carrying the virus, they will be exposing others needlessly. Ultimately, well-fitting masks used in combination with goggles or face shields are more likely to block out more germs than any one type of protection alone but the mask is the most important part of this scenario for both protecting the self and others.
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