Published 07 July 2020
Now that face masks are becoming commonplace among the public, questions about better alternatives are beginning to arise. Face shields are one type of face protection that are growing in usage, especially among food businesses. However, the pros and cons of face shields must be considered before making the switch.
Face masks are quickly becoming a mandatory requirement for indoor public places in many countries. Food businesses that have reopened are purchasing the personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff in large quantities, and some are providing them for customers if they attempt to enter the premises without a face mask. While the requirements for face masks differ by country and jurisdiction, one thing is clear: PPE is here to stay for the time being. This is prompting questions about whether other forms of PPE are just as effective as face masks.
Face shields are one type of face protection that is making its appearance in other places than health care settings. Food handlers in restaurants, staff in grocery stores and even some customers are being observed wearing this type PPE. The following is a breakdown of the positives and negatives of face shields.
While face masks are effective at reducing the spread of infected droplets from a person’s mouth, they make the wearer anonymous. The wearer’s mouth and nose are completely covered with only their eyes visible — this creates a disconnect when communicating with individuals wearing masks. The human brain is wired to read a person’s facial expressions in order to understand their intentions and emotions while communicating. With the mouth being covered under a face masks, facial expressions are difficult — if not impossible — to read. Face shields on the other hand, provide protection while allowing the wearer’s face to be visible. This allows for better communication and connectivity between people. This is particularly useful in a food business setting where customers tend to expect a positive experience when they enter the premises to purchase food. Seeing a person’s face also helps to reduce fears that many individuals are experiencing as they venture out to eat at food businesses for the first time since shutdowns began.
Face shields are better than face masks when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing. Reusable face masks must be cleaned after every use, ideally in a washing machine and with hot water. This means that they must be washed daily. Also, multiple reusable face masks must be utilized throughout the day since once they become dirty they must be washed and allowed to completely dry, which takes time. Alternatively, face shields can easily be cleaned, sanitized and then re-worn immediately after the sanitizer has dried. This is useful for food businesses where time efficiency is key to running a smooth and successful operation.
Face shields are reusable which means that only one will be needed per staff member. This is in contrast to reusable face masks, where multiples will be needed for each staff member due to the face masks needing time to be washed and dried. Purchasing multiple reusable or disposable face masks can be costly for food businesses, especially after being closed for some time due to the pandemic. Face shields help to reduce those costs.
Face shields provide additional protection to the face which cannot be achieved with face masks. With face shields, the eyes of the wearer are covered which is one of the ways that the coronavirus can enter the body. Face masks only cover the mouth and nose of the wearer, and only if they are worn properly. The benefit of this is that food workers are provided with extra protection on all entry points of the coronavirus, not just the nose and mouth, and this can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
It has been observed that individuals wearing face masks are more likely to touch their masks in order to adjust them. There are also incidents where people wearing face masks lower the masks when speaking to others, effectively undoing the benefit of wearing the face mask. Because face shields allow for the wearer’s mouth to be visible, it is easier for others to understand them and this leads to less tampering and touching of the PPE. Also, because face shields sit in front of the face rather than directly on the face, people are less likely to touch the PPE or their face in general.
Face shields do not sit directly on the wearer’s face and as a result there are large gaps around the sides and bottom of the face shield. This means that there is the potential for respiratory droplets to escape through the sides of the face shield. Face masks on the other hand, sit directly against the face which reduces the spread of respiratory droplets significantly.
Face shields are much bigger than face masks and as a result, they can be more cumbersome to carry and to store. This can pose a problem for food businesses that employ a large amount of staff. Storing large quantities of face shields can be difficult due to their size and shape. Their bulkiness can also cause workers to be resistant to wearing them as opposed to smaller and lighter face masks.
Despite the benefits of face shields, there is still not enough data to confirm that they are as effective or better than face masks. Currently there are no studies conducted on whether viral transmission has occurred from a person wearing a face shield rather than a face mask. This lack of research indicates that it is still too early to suggest that face masks be swapped completely for face shields. Instead, it is recommended to use a face shield in combination with a face mask in order to ensure the most protection possible.