Face shields have been a yoke on the shoulders of Filipinos, who are the only people on the planet who have been compelled to wear them in their day-to-day activities in the belief that they provide “added” protection against COVID-19.
In fact, many of us literally breathed a sigh of relief when the government lifted the mandatory use of face shields in areas where coronavirus infections were on the wane. But now, as a new variant of the coronavirus looms, officials say they are considering bringing the face shields back.
Such a move, however, appears to be another knee-jerk reaction that will do more harm than good.
Face shields have been widely unpopular because they are unwieldy and, when used in conjunction with a face mask, make it difficult to breathe. Critics have also pointed out that no other country in the world mandates their use.
Moreover, a wind engineer, Joshua Agar from the University of the Philippines, ran an airflow simulation and found that the shields may actually increase risk of exposure to the coronavirus because it sucks in air particles and keeps them trapped behind the shield. The danger is increased when people pull their masks down, even temporarily, so they can breathe.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) says there is no need to reimpose the mandatory use of face shields, despite the threat posed by the Omicron variant of the virus.
“The virus is airborne, transferred via close contact transmission. What is important is observing social distancing, wearing a face mask and hygiene,” WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said during a briefing.
“As long as these minimum public health protocols are complied with and we ensure that people do not congregate in closed settings…face shields, at this point, are not mandatory because we are still looking at and understanding the transmission dynamics of the Omicron variant,” Abeyasinghe said.
Abeyasinghe on Tuesday advised Filipinos not to overreact to the possible entry of the new COVID-19 variant.
“We just need to be very rational in our approach,” Abyssinghe said in a televised public briefing, noting that compliance with safety protocols would be higher if the approach is “risk-based” rather than imposed.
“There is significant discontentment on the mandatory use of face shields,” he added.
The administration has made it a point to say they listen to the science when it comes to its COVID-19 response.
Health officials should then consider a 2020 study published in the journal Physics of Fluids that found that, even though face shields stopped the initial entry of droplets, much smaller droplets lingered at the bottom of the shield and floated around at the sides.
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety found that face shields do not protect you from inhaling other people’s respiratory droplets or aerosols, and they do not prevent your respiratory droplets from entering the air. The face mask does that—not the face shield. Moreover, face shields can be a potential source of infection if not properly handled and disinfected after each use.
In the early days of the pandemic, before we knew any better, local governments sprayed disinfectant on the tires of cars to prevent the spread of the disease, in what we now know was a useless exercise. Now we know more—and we ought to know better. Science and logic dictate that the use of face shields on top of face masks should remain voluntary.