The reaction to face masks after two years of dealing with COVID is one of frustration and exhaustion. From clumsy attempts to make homemade masks from scarfs to the professional cup-style face masks that block just about everything including breathing, masks are probably the last thing people want to be dealing with going forward. However, before surgical masks became as commonplace as emails, face visors were a regular tool in the medical field from dentists to surgeons. They provided easy benefits of being able to see through and a physical barrier that blocks floating material from contact.
There’s a number of factors to consider about whether plastic face shields even make sense for the average person, however. They are frequently used by people early one who didn’t want to deal with a mask, and larger, window-like screens are now used by cashiers at stores, both to make sure they help prevent a COVID transmission. Here is the reality about how they work though:
1. No real COVID protection
The face shield has little viable capability to block COVID when it’s a general exposure in a closed room. Because COVID is an aerosolized virus, it basically travels by air. The shield only provides a barrier to direct physical material contact. It could easily block that material moving as a projectile, such as a droplet, but the face shield won’t do anything about viral material floating in the air, around the mask and then being breathed in. In fact, if everyone relied on face shields, it would create a false sense of protection and probably spread COVID even faster. It’s about the same protection as just not wearing a mask at all when it comes to a pandemic.
2. Droplets Do Get Blocked
If one combined a face shield with a surgical mask, however, there would be a serious level of effective protection. COVID transfers the most with droplets. As people breathe out, cough, sneeze and similar, they project tiny droplets. That’s the primary vector of transfer. Face shields block the direct impact of droplets, especially when dealing with someone in bed coughing upwards and out. Surgical masks block transient material floating in the air afterwards.
3. The Fit of a Face Shield Makes a Difference
If a face shield isn’t fitted properly, it’s not going to do its job very well. Again, the primary protection involves a frontal barrier. That doesn’t do any good if the shield is bent up over the head and not worn properly, a common issue when people get sick of looking through the shield’s plastic to read or similar. A good fit should be with the bracket almost in line with the ears and edges of the shield on the side reaching the same. Gapping should be avoided entirely. Otherwise, a droplet can get on the face, and the point of protection fails entirely.
4. Face Shields Have to be Cleaned Consistently
Face shields practically work as a filter and capture. Everything that’s a contaminant is going to get stuck on their outer surface layer. The only way that it remains functional and not a problem is when the shield is cleaned thoroughly and sanitized after every use. This matters tremendously when the shield is going to be used around different people. Otherwise, it’s simply going to be a medium that transfers bacteria and viruses from one place to another.
5. Shields Provide a Better Barrier Than Cloth
Cloth material is permeable. Eventually, with enough moisture, contaminants can get through it. And, most times, people wear a cloth barrier only over part of their face. That essentially means the rest of their face is exposed. A face shield worn correctly blocks all types of particulates and droplets, preventing contact with the face entirely. However, a combination of a cloth mask and a face shield is going to be a very effective barrier to the spread of droplets and contaminants.
6. Face Shields are Easily Available Now
For many years, face shields were very much restricted to medical equipment suppliers as well as art supply stores. It was actually pretty hard to find them otherwise. However, with COVID’s arrival and the need for effective, easily produced facial protection from bio-risks, production went way up. Today, face shields are available online as well as being stocked in many drug stores nationwide. Eventually, the physical stock will decrease, but the online channels are likely to stay, being another lasting side effect of a pandemic.
Surgical face masks will continue to get social reactions for a few more years until the pandemic dies down and just becomes as common as the flu, but face shields will continue to have their place, particularly in medical offices and practices. They make sense in a lot of health applications, whether it’s for assistants providing medical care, nurses checking on and providing treatments to patients, and doctors applying procedures, and the practicality of a clear see-through face shield helps allow visibility while still protecting direct contact for the wearer. It’s just a commonsense tool when used correctly as a medical provider.