Don’t Ditch the Masks for a Face Protect

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Don’t Ditch the Mask for a Face Shield

We get it. Wearing a mask can be uncomfortable. They are hot. You get wet when you exert yourself. The rubber bands can injure your ears. Therefore, it can be tempting to use a face shield instead – a clear plastic shield that covers your face from the forehead down. But shields should never be used alone to keep airborne infections from spreading. They should be used with masks to ensure optimal protection. Because of this, you see pictures of hospital staff and people in risk areas, both of which wear together.

Therefore, face shields should not be used alone.

On the one hand, face shields are rigid or semi-rigid clear plastic sheets that curve around your face but don't sit next to your skin on your cheeks or under your mouth. Their original use was to protect the wearer from splashes of body fluid that could hit the eyes and face. Masks, on the other hand, when worn properly, fit around your nose, cheeks, and chin to keep your droplets in the air inside and out.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University College of Engineering and Computer Science conducted experiments to study how droplets behave when a person sneezes or coughs while wearing a face mask without a mask. Would the shield protect the people around them? The answer was no. The researchers found that although the shield stopped the initial spray of droplets after a sneeze or cough, it moved across the shield and spread across the sides and bottom of the shield and into the surrounding area.

While masks can filter out droplets when you inhale, the open spaces around the face shields allow for potentially contaminated air flow under the shield that you would then inhale. Hence, there is little protection from someone who may be speaking nearby or coughing or sneezing.

In the same study, researchers looked at masks that are sold with exhalation valves. Manufacturers claim they are more comfortable to breathe and just as safe as regular masks. These must not be confused with the official N-95 masks, which have been specially developed for optimal safety. The valves on the other masks let your breath push through the mask each time you exhale. In other words, they don't filter out viruses. Every time you breathe, the virus is sent outside the mask.

"Our observations suggest that in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the community, it is preferable to use high quality fabrics or surgical masks that are simple in design rather than face shields and masks that are equipped with exhalation valves," concluded Researchers.

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