Since safety is everyone’s top priority right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of stopping, everyone is still wondering how best to protect themselves. One of the more heated arguments is whether face shields are more effective than face masks, or vice versa. Here we’ll explore some of the key differences between them and help determine the qualities of face shields vs. masks for protection from COVID-19.
Disposable plastic face shields can be effective against spreading COVID-19 if used properly. One of the best parts about a face shield is that it protects the entire face, including the all-important eyes. The eyes are a vulnerable point of entry for the virus, so the face shield’s ability to protect this area is key. Disposable plastic face shields offer full coverage of the nose, mouth and eyes. But they also prevent you from touching your face, are comfortable to wear, are reusable and are almost impossible to wear wrong.
One of the problems with disposable plastic face shields is that the virus often spreads through very small particles that can sometimes find their way past the shield. The open sides and bottom of face shields do not effectively protect the mouth from any stray virus transmission. However, a 2014 cough simulation by the National Library of Medicine found that a face shield can reduce a person’s viral exposure by 96% when worn within 18” (45.7cm) of someone who is coughing. Also, Dr. Amesh Adala, a Johns Hopkins Infectious Disease Expert, does not believe that the open areas of a shield are a major risk for transmission since respiratory droplets are gravity-dependent. In fact, he believes that the openings around the face shield make it easier to wear and easier to comply with. The benefits of not touching your face and protecting your eyes outweigh any deficiency anyone may pose against face shields.
We all know how important face masks are to preventing the spread of COVID-19, but they are not without drawbacks as well. Face masks are useful because the most effective ones fully cover the mouth and nose, blocking the virus’s most common pathways into the body. It is important to ensure that the mask creates a seal around the mouth and nose so as not to let any viral particles slip through.
On the other hand, face masks do not solve the problem of exposed eyes the way that face shields do. One of the other downsides of face masks is that many people do not have the approved N95 masks and, therefore, use homemade masks or surgical masks that do not create a solid seal on the face. Plus, people often touch their faces more while wearing a mask, as they tend to be uncomfortable and prone to slippage.
After weighing the pros and cons, the answer to whether face shields or masks are better protection from COVID-19 is that neither of them is perfect. If you are heading out into the public, a face mask should be the absolute minimum required for doing so. However, if you are in a highly trafficked area or a field such as the medical or delivery fields, the best answer would be to wear both, as this will give you the highest chance to prevent the virus from spreading to or from you. If you are in the office and are distancing, a face shield will likely feel more comfortable.