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Plastic Face Shields Are Not A Safe Alternative To Cloth Masks: Find Out Why

As of today, there are 92,807,797 COVID-19 cases with 1,987,509 deaths. On a hopeful note, 66,356,096 have recovered. The virus outbreak that began in 2019 continues to cause casualties and vaccine trials are undergoing now.

With the approval of two COVID-19 vaccines (Oxford's Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin) by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), the head of the Indian drug regulatory body, the nation is all set to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

To control and manage the situation, health authorities worldwide have advised everyone to stay in self-quarantine and wear a face mask while venturing out homes to minimise the risk of spreading the disease.

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Effectiveness Of Masks Against COVID-19

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts and officials have been debating the effectiveness of cloth masks and surgical masks against the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued guidelines on the public's use of face masks, which encourage people to wear homemade cloth masks [1][2].

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Face masks offer protection against respiratory infections for health care workers and the general public and reduce community transmission, making masks one of the easiest ways to prevent the coronavirus disease spread.

Cloth masks are the most commonly used ones, which can also be linked to reduced levels of plastic waste accumulation [3].

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Are Plastic Face Shields As Effective As Cloth Masks?

Although the CDC and WHO continue to stress on the importance of using cloth masks to prevent the spread of the respiratory illness, there has been a surge in the use of plastic face shields for protection, citing the advantage that plastic masks/shields are more comfortable than cloth masks [4].

However, health experts and studies have pointed out that plastic face shields should not be used as a replacement for cloth masks. Here are the points to support this statement:

  • Plastic face shields are effective in preventing droplets from coming into contact with the nose, mouth, and eyes (sites that the virus enters to establish infection) [5].
  • Plastic face shields are effective in protecting the wearer from an infected person [6].
  • Plastic face shields do not provide protection from the droplets in the environment, which can be inhaled through the open areas around the plastic visor of the shield [7].
  • Studies point out that while plastic shields did block the initial forward motion of a cough or a sneeze, the droplets from the sneeze/cough could still move across the plastic shield and spread to a larger environment [8].
  • Another study conducted in Switzerland revealed that none of the people wearing masks tested positive for the virus, but several people wearing only face shields did test positive.
  • Health experts have added that it is important to practise regular hand washing, physical distancing, and staying home as much as possible, and face coverings are one of the most important safety measures of it all. Adding a face shield over a face mask is also advised [9].

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How To Use A Plastic Face Shield In Times Of COVID-19?

Remember always to wear a mask when using a plastic face shield. If you are using or plan to get a plastic face shield for you, keep in mind the following points [10].

  • Make sure your face shield fits your face and head properly; that is, it should come to the level of the chin or below in the front.
  • Clean and disinfect your face shield after each use or refer to the manufacturer's instructions, if available.
  • Plastic face shields can be cleaned with a neutral detergent and warm water to remove any visible soiling, followed by a clean water rinse. After this, disinfect the mask using a chlorine-based solution. You can air-dry the shields or use clean paper towels.
  • Avoid using alcohol-based disinfectants to clean the plastic face shields because alcohol can damage plastic and glues over time. It may remove any antiglare or antifogging properties.
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On A Final Note…

Plastic face shields should only be used to supplement cloth face coverings instead of cloth masks. If you are wearing a plastic face shield, make sure you wear a cloth mask as well.