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Do Face Shields Reduce the Need for Surgical Masks?

With the surge in Covid-19 infections worldwide, there is an urgent need for all of us to take the right measures to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus in our communities.

As per the World Health Organization (WHO), observing social distancing and the use of face masks in public are formidable ways of preventing the spread of coronavirus. While face masks have become a common phenomenon today, the use of face shields is becoming more common to the public, especially in retail stores and health centers.

With the emergence of face shields, some people have opted to do away with face masks, preferring to stick to using face shields alone. But how do they work and how are face shields a comfortable replacement to face masks?

There are a myriad of questions than answers surrounding the novel coronavirus. However, what is clear to us as far is that the virus is transmitted when a carrier releases respiratory particles and an uninfected person either comes into contact with those particles or inhales them.

While you can buy a surgical mask with ease online, it still begs the question, ‘do face shields reduce the need for surgical masks?’

What Is a Face Shield?

Simply put, a face shield is a protective film that is designed to be worn like a visor across the face. It is typically made from plastic because it is a light, transparent material.

Healthcare workers use face shields to block any splashes or bodily fluids from coming into contact with their face. It is worth noting that one way a lot of people contract the coronavirus is by rubbing their eyes or faces. In light of this, face shields act as a protective barrier for our faces, limiting the number of times we come into contact with it.

How Do Surgical Face Masks Work?

Medical masks are made of different layers of fabric materials designed to filter airborne droplets, aerosols, and sprays from accessing the respiratory system. Because of this, surgical masks have been instrumental in preventing the spread of Covid-19 globally.

Most surgical masks come with a thin layer of cotton weave made from macro-sized fibers. These layers (though slim) are effective in trapping large and small particles thus preventing them from gaining access to the respiratory tract.

Face shields offer numerous potential benefits to the wearer. They equally come with several shortcomings that render face shields a bit lacking in preventing the spread of Covid-19. Let’s take an in-depth look into the pros and cons of using face shields.

Pros of Using Face Shields

Face Shields Cover the Entire Face

As highlighted above, coronavirus pathogens are transmitted from one person to another mostly through respiratory droplets that use breathable air as a medium.

One of the best things about using a face shield is that it covers the entire face from the forehead to the chin. The plastic film that hangs from the top of the forehead to the lower part of the chin acts as a wall for the wearer’s face, blocking respiratory droplets of any size that could be contaminated with coronavirus pathogens.

Face Shields Are Easy to Wear

It's one thing to wear protective gear and another to wear it correctly. One of the many reasons people get infected with coronavirus, whether with a surgical mask or a face shield, is that they fail to wear them properly.

There’s no particular formula to wearing a face shield. All you need to do is make sure the panel extends beyond your chin and curves around your face.

Face Shields Are Readily Available

The onset of the epidemic prompted stakeholders in various industries as well as DIYers to come up with readily available protective gear to help in the fight against Covid-19. To this effect, items such as fabric face masks, homemade sanitizer, and face shields proliferated our communities.

This made it possible for anyone to walk into a retail or convenience store and pick a face shield from the counters. They are also available online, with plenty of e-commerce stores stocking face shields in plenty.

Cons of Using Face Shields

They Are Not as Effective as Other Personal Protective Equipment

As compared to a mask that fully covers the face, face shields merely curve around the face. They tend to leave a gap of considerable size on either side of the face which could expose the wearer to contaminated droplets suspended in the air.

The WHO and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as well as many other government agencies highly recommend using face masks because of how they provide full coverage to the chin and mouth.

There’s a Bit of Discomfort in Using Face Shields

A face shield can be very uncomfortable to wear. They are worn around the head and over the face, unlike surgical masks which are worn around the mouth and nose. They are also a bit bulky and can be overwhelming to walk around with.

Additionally, the panel of the shield can get steamy leaving you with no choice but to keep wiping the screen each time it fogs up.

As stated above, a face shield acts as a barrier and unfortunately, blocks out the wearer’s voice when they speak, prompting them to amplify their voices when communicating. This can be rather frustrating for the wearer, especially in a work environment.

Face Shields Don’t Reduce the Need for Surgical Masks

While scientists are working day and night to gain more information about the coronavirus, we must try and keep the infection rates low to lighten the burden on the healthcare system. To do so, we need to use various personal protective equipment.

With this in mind, from the information above can easily conclude that face shields don’t reduce the need for surgical masks. On the contrary, one would argue that face shields increase the need for surgical masks since they are most effective when worn together with surgical masks.

While the face shield will protect the wearer from coming into contact with carrier respiratory droplets, surgical masks will help prevent the wearer from releasing respiratory particles in case they are infected.


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