By Nicole Harris
For the past few months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of cloth face masks to control the spread of COVID-19. The masks should be worn in public and near people outside of your household, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
But cloth face coverings have some downsides: They’re hot and uncomfortable, they don’t cover the eyes, and most children don’t like wearing them. That’s why some parents are turning to face shields instead. These plastic barriers cover the entire face (including the eyes) with a transparent barrier.
Despite their popularity among parents, however, the CDC doesn’t recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks. “At this time, it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer,” according to the organization. “There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control.”
Instead, experts recommend that parents use face shields only along with masks for extra protection against COVID-19. Here’s everything you need to know about the face mask vs. face shield debate.
The pros of face shields
Usually made from plastic, face shields create a barrier over a person’s entire face. Wearing them has several benefits for kids:
- Shields don’t directly touch the face, and they stay put with built-in headbands. This design might feel more comfortable for kids—especially in warm, humid weather.
- COVID-19 transmits mainly through respiratory droplets that might enter through the mucous membranes of the eyes. Unlike face masks, shields create a protective barrier over the eyes.
- The see-through exterior makes communication easier for the deaf population, as well as kids with special needs and learning disorders.
- Wearers don’t need to adjust shields as often as face masks. Less contact with the face means fewer chances of COVID-19 transmission.
- Face shields can be washed and re-worn.
The cons of face shields
The coronavirus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. It might also be transmitted by airborne particles released with talking, exhaling, coughing, or sneezing. Face masks work by containing these particles, which protects everyone around a contagious individual, even if the sick person is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. When worn properly, the mask should cover your mouth and nose, fit securely underneath the chin, and rest snugly against the sides of the face, according to Marnie Granados, M.D., a CHOC pediatrician.
Face shields, on the other hand, don’t provide the same level of protection against COVID-19. The plastic barrier doesn’t fit snugly against the face, meaning that infectious particles can still leak through the bottom and sides. Take this recent event from a Switzerland hotel: Employees relying on face shields for COVID-19 protection contracted the virus, but those wearing masks received negative test results. What’s more, a guest contracted COVID-19 after contact with a shield-wearing employee.
To sum it up, anything that isn’t currently approved by the CDC shouldn’t be used as facial protection, says Belinda Dao, M.D., a CHOC pediatrician.
How to wear face shields properly
Want to give your child added defense against COVID-19? They can wear a face mask in addition to a shield. This get-up covers their mouth, nose, and eyes, which decreases their chances of contracting the virus. If your child has COVID-19 (asymptomatically, pre-symptomatically, or with symptoms), wearing a mask with a shield can better protect people around them from contamination. Note that babies should never wear face shields, as it poses a risk for suffocation.
Make sure your child washes their hands (or uses a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol) before handling the face shield. Clean the shield between each use with “a wipe or clean cloth saturated with EPA-registered hospital disinfectant solution,” according to the CDC. You can also remove residue with clean water or alcohol, and let the shield air dry completely between uses. Always wash your hands after cleaning the shield! Disposable face shields should be thrown away after each use.
What if my child can’t wear a mask?
Some children have difficulties wearing face masks because they’re hard of hearing, interacting with a deaf individual, have sensory issues, etc. In these cases, the CDC recommends wearing plastic shields that “ wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend below the chin.” Hooded face shields may also provide more protection against COVID-19.