Reusable Face Masks vs. Face Shields

As face masks have become a necessity of life in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, the information and misconception about them are also rising. Meanwhile, face shields have come up as another protective gear, and people are interested in knowing about the kind of benefit they provide, if any.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people must wear a protective cover on their face when they are out in the open, along with following social distancing rules. Let us review the basics about reusable masks and shields and how they can be used to keep you safe from most viral and other infections in the environment.

What is a face mask?

As is common knowledge by now, face masks are protective covers worn over the nose and mouth. They form the first line of protection against the novel coronavirus, which has taken the world by storm. The aim is to filter out any airborne particles that have live germs on them, which, when inhaled, can cause a severe infection. A large body of literature has proven that wearing masks prevent the spread and transmission of COVID-19 or the Wuhan virus.

Click here, the most popular types of masks are N95 masks, surgical masks, and cloth masks. The N95 masks provide the best range of protection and can be used the longest or as specified by the manufacturer. Surgical masks offer the second-best protection and can be used for 6 to 8 hours. Cloth masks cannot filter airborne particles as successfully as other masks but are washable and reusable. Cloth masks are definitely the more economical and a greener choice.

What is a face shield?

Face shields were earlier limited to industries, workshops, construction sites, and laboratories where the workers were prone to hazards such as flying objects, debris, chemical splashes, or potentially infectious materials.

They have invaded the public setting as many people wear it to protect themselves from the virus. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend face shields as a substitute for face masks as they leave large gaps below and alongside the mouth. They are meant to protect the eyes from any flying hazards and splashes.

What are the benefits of a face mask over a face/mouth shield?

Face masks remain the core element of the CDC’s recommendations against COVID-19. However, plastic face shields do not provide that level of adequate protection and cannot be used as an alternative or substitute to masks. But they can be used as added equipment along with face masks to give you enhanced protection.

Face shields, though not enough by themselves, do have certain benefits. The primary transmission of COVID-19 occurs via droplets. Face shields are excellent at preventing these droplets from coming in contact with the eyes, nose, mouth, or anywhere on the face. But face shields leave the bottom part of the face uncovered from which remnant droplets can be inhaled. Hence, face shields need to be supplemented with a face mask without fail.

When and how to use each of these options?

Even though it has been established that face masks provide the best protection against coronaviruses, they cannot be used in some cases. For instance, in certain circumstances, masks may not be worn around people with hearing impairment. They need to see your lips to interpret what you are trying to say. In such a situation, clear face shields might be a better option.

However, to see that you do not lose out on protection, wear a face shield that wraps around the side of your face and below your chin. This type of shield leaves no space from which a spray of respiratory droplets can reach your mouth or nose.

What to remember when using a face mask and a face shield?

The basic handling procedure for a mask and shield is similar. Always wash your hands before and after you remove your mask and shield. Store it in a safe place and not in the open where it can come in contact with more airborne particles. In case it is a one-time wear mask or shield, dispose of it as per the manufacturer’s instruction and then wash your hands.

The CDC recommends wearing a mask and shield when dining out and it should be removed only while eating or drinking. You probably need not wear a mask when doing activities that may get it wet. If you have trouble breathing with a mask and shield on, choose a location with greater ventilation and keep at least 6 feet away from others before removing your protective gear for a while.

Why choose a reusable face mask and shield?

Reusable shields and cloth masks are the more cost-effective and environment-friendly option available. Single-use masks and shields definitely seem cheaper at first but, in the long run, are heavy on the pocket. Reusable masks and shields can be washed and cleaned as often as possible. They do not come with an expiry date but need to be replaced when they are worn out or make it difficult to breathe.

Cloth masks, when washed frequently or used over a long time, get lint on them and let off small fibers. These can be inhaled and are a choking hazard. Children and older adults tend to prefer cloth masks as they are easier to breathe in. Also, reusable masks come with a greater variety of designs and are preferred by the children.

Misconceptions about wearing masks and shields

· All masks and shields are reusable Cloth masks are reusable and washable. In contrast, some types of N95 masks can also be used as long as the manufacturer specifies them. But surgical and other disposable masks are fit for only single use. They need to be disposed of after the specified time and then wash your hands immediately.

· Social distancing can be excused when wearing a mask One of the serious misconceptions is that people can disregard social distancing rules when wearing masks. However, this assumption is wrong and may endanger lives.

· Wearing face masks could deplete oxygen levels Wearing masks can indeed be uncomfortable for some, and a few people might find it hard to breathe with a mask on. But it does not mean that blood oxygen levels are depleted, and carbon dioxide levels are retained with reusable masks.

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