Mask vs. Face Shields

(per Journal of American Medical Association)

SHIELDS: Can be reused indefinitely. – MASKS: Wear out quickly.

SHIELDS: Easily cleaned with soap and water. – MASKS: Require sophisticated cleaning techniques.

SHIELDS: Comfortable to wear. – MASKS: Restrict breathing, inhibit conversation and fog glasses.

SHIELDS: Substantial protection from virus particles. – MASKS: Low or moderate protection.

SHIELDS: Significantly reduce face-touching. – MASKS: Adjusting masks involves touching the face.

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Face Masks and Face Shields

The supply chain for medical masks is concentrated in China and the origin of the outbreak there resulted in factory closures and critical shortages. To preserve medical masks for health care facilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all persons wear a cloth mask in public for source control. Cloth masks have been shown to be less effective than medical masks for prevention of communicable respiratory illnesses,8 although in vitro testing suggests that cloth masks provide some filtration of virus-sized aerosol particles.9 Face shields may provide a better option.

Face shields come in various forms, but all provide a clear plastic barrier that covers the face. For optimal protection, the shield should extend below the chin anteriorly, to the ears laterally, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece. Face shields require no special materials for fabrication and production lines can be repurposed fairly rapidly. Numerous companies, including Apple, Nike, GM, and John Deere, have all started producing face shields. These shields can be made from materials found in craft or office supply stores. Thus, availability of face shields is currently greater than that of medical masks.

Face shields offer a number of advantages. While medical masks have limited durability and little potential for reprocessing, face shields can be reused indefinitely and are easily cleaned with soap and water, or common household disinfectants. They are comfortable to wear, protect the portals of viral entry, and reduce the potential for autoinoculation by preventing the wearer from touching their face. People wearing medical masks often have to remove them to communicate with others around them; this is not necessary with face shields. The use of a face shield is also a reminder to maintain social distancing, but allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.