Cloth mask or face shield? Expert weighs in

As per government regulations for level 4 lockdown, South Africans are now required to wear masks in public…

Many, however, prefer the clear, plastic face shields, also used by many workers in the field of healthcare. Which is more effective? Should we be wearing cloth masks or plastic face shields?

Dr Angelique Coetzee, the chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) says she would recommend a face shield that fits properly, as the virus would have trouble moving into the mask from below. She emphasises, though, that no mask or shield will protect you 100% against contracting Covid-19.

"A mask or shield simply ensures that your chances of being infected are less. Wearing a plastic shield in front of your face, should it fit well and be worn correctly, would also make it very difficult for the wearer to touch his or her face," she said.

In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Iowa experts led by Dr Eli Perencevich of the university's department of internal medicine, also advocate the use of shields. The use of cloth masks provides some filtration of virus-sized aerosol particles, but Perencevich said face shields may provide a better option.

How should a face shield fit?

To be most effective in curbing viral spread, a face shield should extend to below the chin, cover the ears and there should be no gap between the forehead and the shield's headpiece, the Iowa team members said, adding that shields have a number of advantages over masks.

Shields can be reused by simply cleaning them with soap and water or common disinfectant. The team also notes that shields are usually more comfortable to wear than masks and form a barrier that keeps people from easily touching their own faces

According to the Iowa team, large-scale studies haven't yet been conducted, but in a simulation study, face shields were shown to reduce immediate viral exposure by 96% when worn by a simulated healthcare worker within 18 inches of a cough, and when the study was repeated at a physical distance of 1.8m, face shields reduced the inhaled virus by 92%.

Infection control should be multi-faceted

Perencevich acknowledged that no studies have yet been conducted to see how well face shields help keep exhaled or coughed virus particles from spreading from an infected wearer, but they stressed that face shields should only make up one part of any infection control effort, along with physical distancing and hand-washing. There would never be any intervention, even a vaccine, that can guarantee 100% effectiveness against the coronavirus, so face shields shouldn't be held to that standard.

The purpose of masks or shields is to help reduce the transmission of Covid-19 by preventing respiratory droplets which come from the nose and mouth from landing on an individual's face where they can be breathed in. The virus spreads through the respiratory droplets when infected people cough, speak and sneeze.

Masks or shields should not be shared with anybody else, and it is preferable if every person has more than one so they can be interchanged during washes. Never handle the inside layer of the mask or shield when taking it off or putting it on.

Originally appeared on Review Online


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Nelie Erasmus – Citizen

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