Along with social distancing and consistently washing hands, a face mask is one of the most crucial weapons for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Because the coronavirus is airborne, a mask prevents virus particles expelled from a person’s respiratory airways from spreading to others. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way, but it doesn’t mean that our mask wearing days will be over anytime soon.
A COVID-19 vaccine is not a get out of jail free card when it comes to wearing masks. As of the writing of this article, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) encourages all people — whether they’ve had COVID or the vaccine or not — to continue wearing a face mask. So, it looks as though masks will continue to be part of our daily life well into 2021. And if you’re going to wear a mask, you should wear one that does its job appropriately.
In this time of COVID-19, not all masks are created equal. Wearing a mask is more than placing fabric over the mouth and nose — it’s about whether droplets and airborne particles of virus can pass through the material or not. The World Health Organization (WHO) made an update to its face mask recommendations at the start of December 2020, creating stricter guidelines for when and where face masks are necessary.
The WHO discourages the use of a face shield as a replacement for a face mask. Although a face shield can help add a layer of safety, when it’s used alone — without a face mask– it doesn’t provide the appropriate barrier to keep virus particles from passing through. Air can still flow around the face shield, allowing droplets with potential coronavirus to travel throughout the air. In most cases, a face shield is best worn with a face mask because it does not replace a face mask.
There are a few instances where the WHO allows for exceptions to this rule, however. Special environments where a person with a disability needs to see a person’s lips or mouth may require someone to go without a face mask. Also, some children may not be able to tolerate or wear a mask. In these cases, a face shield is preferable to nothing, though people should still be aware that there is an increased risk for infection.
The WHO also outlines other rules when it comes to face masks and face shields:
8. Face Shields Should Have Adequate Coverage
The WHO does not recommend a face shield that only covers half the face. An appropriate face shield should wrap around the sides of the face, go past the chin, and cover the entire face. The shield should not have large gaps at the side. Lastly, it’s essential to avoid breaking the face shield, as breakage can injure the face or eyes.