Face masks are one of the essential tools we can use to keep each other safe as things reopen. But what about face shields? These are clear plastic and provide a splash-proof barrier for your face. They can be a good addition to face masks, but they aren’t a replacement.
Face shields protect you from other people’s droplets
One of the biggest flaws of masks — cloth ones especially — is that they aren’t a great barrier against other people’s respiratory droplets. You can’t just put on a mask and consider yourself safe; you’re only protected if the other person is wearing one, too.
But a face shield is splash-proof plastic, which does provide that extra layer of protection, if the person’s droplets hit the shield rather than your face. Remember, the nature of the shield is that it’s open at the bottom. If someone in a chair looks up at you and sneezes, for example, the shield doesn’t do much for you.
Face shields don’t do much to protect others from you
A snug-fitting mask will catch most of your respiratory droplets as they emanate from your mouth and nose. But a face shield is open at the bottom, making it far leakier than a mask.
Healthcare workers who use face shields use them with a mask. The shield protects them, and also keeps their mask clean so they can keep wearing it for longer. (This itself is not great — masks should really be single-use — but supplies are still short at many hospitals.)
Face shields have other advantages, too
Besides protecting your mouth and nose, face shields also keep potentially virus-laden droplets out of your eyes. They also make it nearly impossible to touch your face or mask by accident.
Face shields are also easy to clean – just wipe them down. They’re also more foolproof than masks, since it’s not like you’re going to accidentally wear a face shield on your chin or let your nose poke out.
So should you wear a face shield when you’re out and about? Some experts argue that you should, either in addition to a mask or in lieu of one when masks are unavailable.
A face shield is definitely a good idea if you’ll be in close contact with people who may be sick, like if you are caring for a COVID-19 patient at home. Some medical professionals, including some of the people who administer COVID-19 tests, have been wearing them for months.