face shields for coronavirus
Image: European Space Agency (ESA)/MakerVsVirus

Are Face Masks better than Face Shields for Coronavirus?

Since the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, health experts have urged people to wear face coverings in order to effectively prevent catching the infection. Wearing a face mask in public has now become a norm in most of the countries around the world. However, many people are turning towards face shields for coronavirus instead of masks for better protection.

Although face masks for coronavirus remains widely popular, the number of people opting for a plastic shield rising day by day. Usually, face shields are worn along with a mask by frontline health care workers for extra protection as they are at the highest risk of contracting the virus from patients especially while performing certain medical procedures.

In addition to health care workers, people having jobs that require close interaction with the general public are adding shields along with face masks to minimize the risk of the spread of the virus.

While taking extra precautions helps in reducing the risk of catching the infection, a rising number of people are using face masks and face shields for coronavirus alternatively.

According to the guidelines from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a cloth or fabric mask is enough for the general public as it can provide the needed protection but plastic face shields are still becoming increasingly popular.

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This is mostly because wearing a shield can help people with some of the concerns they have with wearing a face mask. For instance, some find face masks irritating and restrictive while others report that it is often difficult to breathe with a mask on especially during the hot weather.

However, can a plastic shield provide the same level of protection from the coronavirus infection that a face mask does?

Dr. Michael B. Edmond, who is a clinical professor of infectious diseases at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and the chief medical officer, says that plastic face shields can help in reducing the spread of coronavirus to an extent.

The point of wearing a face covering is to avoid droplets from an infecting person from settling anywhere near the face. Likewise, an infected person wearing a covering can also stop droplets from being released into the air in the first place. A face shield can provide both of these functions.

On the other hand, the clinical assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Dr. Joy Henningsen, says that there is a lack of scientific research regarding the effectiveness of using face shields instead of face mask for preventing coronavirus.

It is difficult to establish whether a face shield for coronavirus can be effective when worn alone without enough data. However, she adds that a combination of masks and shields can provide maximum protection to people.

“There’s no such thing as too many weapons against the novel coronavirus. The more protection, the better.” Dr. Henningsen says.

People who have genuine medical issues and are unable to wear a face mask, such as those with serious lung disease, can opt to wear a face shield in order to have some form of protection in public spaces. For those with no such existent conditions, wearing a shield along with a mask is recommended.