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Which is more effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19: Face Shield or Mask?

Photo credit: VSP Global 4 mins read

Wearing the face shield alone is not effective for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, social media users claim.

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Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, individual protective methods have changed. From the onset the directive from WHO was for only people who are infected by the virus or show symptoms associated with the virus and frontline workers to wear surgical masks

Over time, the narrative has changed with new researches by experts. Facial coverings or surgical masks are now being promoted for individual use, especially in areas where the ability to ensure the prescribed social distancing is low and in a community with confirmed infections from the virus. The Centre for Disease Control approved of this change which has also been implemented in Ghana among many countries. And this new requirement has in no way undermined the hand washing and sanitizing protocols. 

However, over time, a new development being highly patronized in Ghana and across the world is the use of facial shields in the place of cloth facial coverings or surgical and medical masks. This recent trend in Ghana, according to some, is quickly undermining the importance of the facemask.

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Much discussion and some research have been done on the use of face shields in place of face masks. The outcome? Mixed views.

The case for Face shields

Face shields usually come in plastic form making it highly reusable. It is easy to clean and provides a clear cover for the wearer. According to some, it is especially effective for people who depend on lip-reading to communicate and for children of 12 years and below. This is an added case for the face shield as children below two years are not supposed to wear nose masks for medical reasons. In addition to this, the face shield protects the entire face, allowing for the eyes to be protected while the face mask does not protect this part of the face. Face shields are relatively easy to make and also prevents involuntary touching of the face

A paper titled “Face Shields offer improved effectiveness compared to face masks in the general public” suggests that the face shield may provide superior protection whether worn with a face mask or not, with the shield having more pros than both medical and cloth masks.

According to the publication: “Face shields reduced immediate viral exposure by 96% when worn by a simulated health care worker within 18 inches of a cough. When the study was repeated at a distance of six (6) feet, face shields reduced inhaled virus by 92%.”

This is supported by an opinion article by Perencevich E. N, Diekema D. J, Edmond M.B on “Moving Personal Protective Equipment Into the Community. Face Shields and Containment of COVID-19”.  The paper details how effective a face shield is in comparison to the cloth face masks. According to the paper, cloth face coverings only provide protection from some droplet sized aerosol particles, suggesting stronger efficacy for the face shield.

In Singapore, the use of face shields for some specific groups of people has been approved. These groups include children twelve years and below, people with health conditions that result in difficulty in breathing after prolonged use of face masks, people in lecture room settings, and persons doing television broadcasting. But wearing face shields is in addition to other safety protocols, such as social distancing, hand washing and personal hygiene.

The case for the use of face masks

An undisputed fact is that face masks, together with face shields, are the optimal combination for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

According to an article in Health, doctors have stated that the shield is not a replacement for the medical or cloth masks but rather an addition as seen in medical settings. This is because, in close proximity, the eyes are vulnerable to splatters or droplets that may promote the spread of coronavirus. 

The post further states that unless individuals find themselves in settings where they are in close proximity to others who are not wearing face masks, it is unnecessary. 

“The theory is that if everyone is wearing a face mask then everyone’s protected”, the article stated.

Face Shield VS Face Masks

Other members of the medical community are not in agreement with the views on face shields being a better protective gear over the face mask.

Face masks are said to create a complete or almost complete barrier on the sides of the wearer’s face, unlike the face shield.  For instance, should someone with the virus cough or sneeze beside or behind the wearer of a face shield, without the added or existing benefit of a face mask, protection for the face shield wearer is extremely low or non-existent.

A New York Times publication also suggests that face shields do not entirely replace the need for masks. According to the article, there is also no proof yet on how the face shield by itself can protect others from infections from a wearer. But the face mask by itself ensures this level of protection.

Face masks are also relatively cheaper to make, costing as low as GHS 5 to buy in comparison to face shields that range from GHS 40- GHS 50 to buy.

Conclusion

It seems that the face shield has or is gaining popularity around the world as the various types of face masks have already become the norm. All three variations; face mask only, face shield only and a combination of the two all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Roselena Ahiable is a Senior Researcher with Dubawa Ghana. Roselena has years of demonstrated work experience in advertising, sales and marketing, having worked with some of the leading brands in Ghana. She has completed a Master of Philosophy programme in Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon, with specialisation in Public Relations and Advertising. She has also received advanced training in print and broadcast journalism. Roselena also holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana. As a trained journalist with interest in research, Roselena provides the team insight in news and media trend analysis.

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