Face masks or shields – which covering is more effective?

Face coverings will be mandatory in all retail outlets from Monday.

Face coverings are mandatory in all retail outlets from today.

Shoppers who refuse to wear coverings will face fines of up to €2,500 and a potential prison stint.

The announcement was made earlier this week by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, along with the decision to postpone the further reopening of businesses planned for August 10th.

Pubs that do not serve food must remain closed and face masks will have to be worn by all workers and shoppers.

Unlike countries in Asia, the move towards face masks in Europe has been a slow one, as people acclimatise to wearing face coverings while going about their daily routine.

Masks or shields?

The increasing number of people wearing face coverings has led to an interesting debate: face masks or face shields?

While face masks may not be the most comfortable option for longterm wear, with videos of healthcare workers going viral in the early stages of the pandemic showing marks and sores on their faces due to wearing the masks for prolonged periods of time, they are considered more effective than face shields.

Face shields are a clear piece of plastic or perspex which act as a barrier in front of the face. The shields are generally secured around the back of the head, but some varieties do come with earpieces and a nose bridge built-in, sitting on the face similar to a pair of glasses.

Although face shields may seem like a more comfortable option and do not hide the face as they are transparent, studies suggest they may not be as effective against Covid-19 as cloth face masks.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), face masks are recommended to prevent droplets which contain the virus from being spread from person to person.

The CDC does not recommend the use of face shields as there is not enough evidence to suggest their effectiveness.

This is also the standpoint of the UK's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who said there is no evidence that face shields protect against large or small aerosol droplets.

Although the CDC does not recommend the use of shields, it added that they may be beneficial to some people who cannot use face masks for legitimate reasons, such as those who are deaf.

The CDC recommends that if someone is to chose to wear a face shield rather than a mask, they should opt for a style that wraps around the sides of the face and under the chin, or a hooded version.

Disposable shields should only be used once, while reusable shields should be washed and disinfected after each use, washing hands before and after touching the shield.