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Head on board an airplane or pop into any restaurant that’s open for socially-distant dining these days and you may see a familiar sight: people doubling up on their masks, wearing both a cloth face covering and a plastic face shield, in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
While the CDC recommends the wearing of cloth face masks to protect yourself from airborne particles and droplets, its guidance on face shields is less clear. In guidelines released in April, the CDC says, “It is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer.” The report goes on to state that, “There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control.”
While an N95 mask is still your best form of defense against the spread of Covid-19, thousands of people have nonetheless stocked up on face shields, to use as an additional protective layer when traveling, heading out in public, or when in close proximity to others.
Amazon now has dozens of manufacturers making face shields available to buy online, most of which are in-stock and shipping right away. The Syracuse-based safety and defense company, Armoured One, meantime, began offering face shields earlier this year, repurposing the material used for their attack-proof glass to produce shields for frontline workers. They’ve since expanded their offerings to make face shields available to the general public as well and reported a 500% increase in sales since March.
What Are the Benefits of Wearing a Face Shield?
According to Armoured One CEO Tom Czyz, there are multiple benefits to wearing a face shield. “Face shields provide an additional layer of protectin of the facial region and associated mucous membranes from splashes and sprays of body fluids,” he says. “They create a barrier,” he explains, “so anything that is sprayed towards the wearer’s face will likely hit the shield.”
“Face shields can also be cleaned and sanitized easily for extended use if needed,” Czyz adds, often with regular soap and water (I.e. no need to run a washing machine or dryer like for cloth face coverings).
And then there’s an unexpected benefit of wearing a face shield: the ability, Czyz says, to finally see who you’re talking to again.
“In many ways, people have lost true connections with each other during this time,” Czyz explains. “It has been said that most communication between people is nonverbal, and I believe the face masks take away a lot of the nonverbal communication that we are used to. We wanted to offer an alternative that will protect people, and bring back the intimacy that we have lost.”
Czyz has a personal connection to using face shields too: “My son has a learning disability, and when he is working with his teachers, it is imperative that they can see his face to help teach him,” Czyz explains. “A face shield helps them do that.”
Can a Face Shield Replace a Mask?
The short answer is no. According to the CDC, a face shield should be used in addition to a face mask, and not in place of one. The reason: a face shield is primarily used for eye protection, hence the use of face shields in manufacturing and construction facilities. When worn on its own, a face shield doesn’t form enough of a seal around your nose and mouth to truly block out harmful particles. While plastic shields are a great barrier for splashes and sprays, wearing one alone does not provide adequate protection of your airway.
The only time where it may be acceptable to wear a face shield instead of a mask, the CDC says, is when used as an option for people who are “deaf or hard of hearing—or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired.” The see-through design of the shield allows for easy lip reading and communication.
Face Shields vs. Face Masks
Face shields are typically made with a layer of transparent plastic, along with a padded elastic headband. They are designed to be worn around the head, similar to how you would wear a visor. Most face masks, meantime, are made from a cloth material and are worn by tying a strap around your head or by looping straps over your ears.
Aside from the structural difference, face shields are also designed to sit away from the face and mouth, whereas the best face masks should fit snug over your nose and mouth.
When face shields are worn in conjunction with other protective equipment, they can be very effective, physically doubling up the layers of protection you have against airborne germs and droplets. “We have seen our face shields used by school bus drivers, school cafeteria staff, building greeters, Covid testing locations, and medical facilities,” Czyz says, highlighting high-traffic and high-contact places of employment. “Employers are also providing face shields in addition to masks for workers who spend time talking to people face to face.”
The use of face shields may also extend the life of reusable face masks when used in conjunction with one. By placing a face shield over your mask, you limit the amount of exposure the mask has to outside contaminants.
What Are the Best Face Shields?
There are a number of different face shields on the market, but the CDC says the best face shields to get are ones that extend below the chin to offer better coverage and protection. The PPE company, DMB Supply, has FDA-registered face shields available on its site for the general public to order. These adult face shields wrap comfortably around the head with a soft foam headband, while a large, lightweight shield extends down to the neck. DMB Supply says the masks are dust-proof and easily repel droplets. We like that these shields are also individually-wrapped — great for storage and travel, and good for ensuring that you have a clean and sanitized shield each time.
The best face shields should offer a thick plastic covering that can hold up to conditions outdoors (say, a windy day) without losing its shape. The headband should also have a layer of foam to relieve pressure against the forehead, while the strap should be stretchy and comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. Above all, look for face shields that are durable, so they can be disinfected, wiped clean and reused.
The face shields from N95 Medical Supplies are also FDA-registered and feature a comfortable and lightweight fit. A foam headband is soft and plush without losing its shape, while the company says the plastic shield is treated with an anti-fog and anti-static treatment.
Other companies are making face shields with built-in glasses-style frames, that let you wear the protective covering more naturally. There are no lenses on the glasses frame, and the plastic shields are non-prescription. Wear the face shields just like you would a pair of glasses over your ears. A flexible nose bridge helps the frame stay in place. Even people with glasses can wear their specs under these face shields.
Of course, as with traditional face masks, adding a face shield to your daily routine is just one step towards preventing the spread of Covid-19. You’ll still want to practice all the other CDC-recommended guidelines, like proper hand washing, using hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray, and self-isolating when you feel symptoms coming on.