Memorial Health expert talks effectiveness of face shields against COVID-19

Coronavirus

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, many continue to mask up in an effort to protect themselves and others.

Others have gone a step further by donning face shields either in lieu of, or in addition to, their face masks.

But are the plastic see-through visors effective at keeping people safe from the coronavirus? 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing a face shield as a face mask substitute. 

That’s because as of now, CDC experts aren’t exactly certain how much protection a face shield offers to people near the person wearing it. 

Dr. Stephen Thacker, an infectious disease expert at Memorial Health, says there haven’t yet been any studies that specifically focus on the effectiveness of face shields against COVID-19.

Thacker says a benefit to wearing face shields, which many in the healthcare setting are doing in combination with wearing surgical masks, is it does protect the wearer’s eyes from droplets.

“When I think of a face shield, I’m thinking of something that protects my eyes and usually extends down my face,” Thacker told WSAV.com NOW. “Those types of devices are really good at protecting me, the wearer, from someone else coughing in my face or sneezing and getting respiratory droplets on my eye or on my skin, but they don’t really protect me from breathing in someone else’s respiratory droplets and they don’t really have clear evidence that they protect others from my breath, cough or sneeze.”

He says another benefit is that face shields might prevent people from unintentionally touching their eyes, face or face mask as often.

However, when worn without a mask, the open space around the nose and mouth leaves others open to catching your germs. 

“If you think about what the goal of the face masks are, it’s really about capturing our respiratory droplets as we breathe, cough or sneeze, and a mask being so close to the face leads to those respiratory droplets usually falling quickly and many of them being trapped inside of the mask,” Thacker said.

“When you compare it to a face shield, which sits away from the face and mouth and is open below, I would expect that if I cough or sneeze or breathe heavily that people are going to be exposed to my respiratory droplets, so they don’t really accomplish the goal that the face mask provides during this COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

He says CDC guidelines still maintain that wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible is the best form of protection against catching and spreading COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that if you wear a face shield, wash your hands before and after removing it while remembering to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth while taking it off.

Guidance also states that reusable face shields need to be disinfected after each use, disposable ones should only be worn once and that plastic face shields for newborns and infants aren’t recommended.

“For folks that are out there just navigating their community and doing their daily shopping, I would hate to recommend using a face shield only if you’re someone who can safely wear a face mask to help control your respiratory droplets and give you a little bit of protection on what you breathe in; I would recommend that first,” Thacker said. “If you wanted to wear a face shield in addition to that, I would not necessarily say that you can’t or that you shouldn’t.”

He says should a person choose to, wearing a face shield the right way is pretty straightforward.

“You want to make sure that the band is in place and you’ve got it along your forehead, and you would want that shield to protect your nose and your mouth,” he said.

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