Does wearing a face shield prevent one against Covid-19?

Claim: Face shields can protect against Covid-19.

Verdict: False  

Full story: A face shield is simply a curved plastic or Plexiglas panel attached to the headband that can be worn over the face. 

Face shields have been used in health care settings for a while, and they have become predominant during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Face shields are often worn during a wide variety of medical procedures and these may include surgeries or any procedure where bone fragments, blood or other bodily fluids could get into the eyes, nose and mouth. With the advent of Coronavirus pandemic, some people are now wearing it to substitute them for masks.

The pertinent question is whether face shields protect against Covid-19? 

Acting Provincial Medical Director (PMD) for Bulawayo Dr Welcome Mlilo said face shields are not an effective barrier as it only protects one from splash.  

“So, when one puts on a face shield, it is not an effective barrier because its open at the top and at the bottom, and when one is in an environment where Covid droplets haven’t landed down, they are still in the air, how does that protect you, it does not protect you, the shield protects you against splash, that is how a shield works,” he said.  

“So, I don’t know who actually came up with this thing, I know the Ministry of Health and Child Care for sure is clear that the face shield does not replace a mask, even the Covid-19 Statutory Instrument (SI) speaks on mask, there is nowhere where a face shield is mentioned”.  

Dr Mlilo said face masks are more effective in stopping the infected saliva from getting into the atmosphere.  

“The way a face mask works, you are protecting the other person more than yourself because what the face mask does, it stops saliva which may be potentially Covid infected from going out and landing on the next person or surface where a person can take them and put in their nose or mouth and stuff like that, thus the primary use of a face mask be it cloth mask or surgical mask,” said Dr Mlilo.  

“Only a medical mask that is worn in covid-19 wards, can actually protect somebody from an environment that has Covid in the air, some other masks are really biased in stopping the saliva from getting into the atmosphere or spilling on to surfaces thus the big part”.  

Dr Mlilo said, “I think the other issue lacking is the is the enforcement of that, we should remind each other with the police that this thing is wrong because Iam aware that in certain parts of the Country people are being arrested or I don’t know if they are not wearing a mask in public because of that SI”.  

 He said individuals wearing face shields are actually breaking the law.  

“Those people wearing the shield actually run the risk because they are actually breaking the law, so the face shield simple does not do what we want to do by wearing a face mask”, the PMD said, “But there is an apparent lack of knowledge in some segment of the population on how to use face shields. These two types of PPE do not do the same function, they in-fact work together to achieve a greater level of protection against the virus.  

Dr Gibson Mhlanga from the Ministry of Health and Child Care added that, “not unless won together with a mask and observance of all other Covid prevention guidelines”.  

Dr Mhlanga

A Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist, Frank Esper from the Cleveland Clinic however noted in one of the articles that the shield protects the eyes as well as the nose and mouth.  

“Because they extend down from the forehead, shields protect the eyes as well as the nose and mouth. The coverage that face shields offer is ideal since the new coronavirus can enter the body through those points,” said Dr Esper.  

Dr Esper however noted that droplets can still get out better in a face shield than when one  has a mask on.  

“It protects you, the wearer, but if you cough, because the face shield is away from your face, those droplets can still get out better than if you have a mask on,” said Dr Esper.  

The Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) said it is best to wear a mask underneath the face shield and maintain physical distancing when possible.  

“CDC does not recommend wearing face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings. However, some people may choose to use face shields when they know that they’ll be in sustained close contacts with others”.  

“In these cases, it’s best to wear a mask underneath the face shield and maintain physical distancing when possible. This will help minimize the risk of infection since face shield have openings at the bottom,” said CDC. 

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