Should I Wear A Face Shield?
You’ve been social-distancing, you’ve been washing your hands like crazy, and by now you’ve bought every type of mask for sale on the market. Should you also invest in a face shield? The short answer is: probably yes. But these only need to be worn in certain situations. If you are in frequent contact with others who are unmasked, or you are in close contact under 1-2 feet with people wearing masks for long periods of time, you may benefit from the additional protection of a face shield.
Face shields are designed to provide eye protection and prevent splatter at close range. Surgeons wear them attached to their masks during procedures to protect against contaminated bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, or other secretions from entering their eyes in order to reduce the risk of bacterial or viral infections including HIV and Hepatitis C. My ophthalmology clinic has face shields built into each slit lamp microscope in the exam rooms since doctors and patients must be within 12 inches of each other for short durations of time.
When Close Contact Cannot Be Avoided
But if you are not in a high risk medical field like anesthesiology, surgery, dentistry, otolaryngology, or ophthalmology, do you really need a face shield? If you are working in a quiet office where people are generally spread out through social distancing and universally wearing masks, you may be safe without one. But if you are in food service or teaching school children, you will be in frequent contact with large numbers of people and social distancing might not be possible at all times. In these instances, a face shield would provide an extra layer of protection during those times of close contact. In fact, in the (hopefully rare) situation where another person is unmasked and sneezes at close range directly your face, a face shield at that moment will absolutely provide better protection than even the best face mask. Again, face shields are impermeable flexible plastic covers that protect against fluid splatter at close range.
Face shields may also be useful for very young children and infants who cannot tolerate a mask, or are under age 2 and not recommended to wear masks per CDC guidelines. People who have medical or respiratory conditions that prohibit wearing a mask will also gain limited protection from wearing a face shield alone.
Use in Combination with Masks
It is important to note that a face shield alone will not provide the same level of protection against fine aerosolized particles the way a well-designed face mask with a good filter will. Face shields are designed to stop large fluid particles at close range, while face masks are able to filter fine aerosolized particles at long range. Wearing a face shield in combination with a good face mask will provide the best protection.
We chose our face shield sun hats especially sized for young children since we understand that they may find consistent proper mask wearing to be more challenging. We chose the baseball cap face shields since these are the most comfortable of all of the face shields we’ve tried for community wear, and allows wearers to “blend in”. There are an abundance of medical face shields available as well that are of high quality on the market. Our favorite medical face shield is this one designed by Ultralight Optics. Whatever shield you choose, make sure to wear it in combination with your fabric mask for the best protection.