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HealthWise: Face Shields Vs. Face Masks – Are they the same?

Here is some important information about how different types of face coverings work in the fight against COVID-19.

Q.  What is the difference between a face mask and a face shield?
A.  A face mask is a fabric covering that fits snugly over the nose and mouth, with no gaps. A face shield is a piece of polycarbonate plastic, typically mounted on a headband, that hangs in front of the face from the eyes to below the chin. It does not actually touch the face.

Q.  Do they do the same thing?
A.  No they do not! They each provide one-way protection from different things. When you wear a face mask, you are helping to protect other people. The face mask works by controlling moisture droplets and preventing them from being expelled towards others. The close fit is essential to that protection. A face shield, on the other hand, is a device for your own personal protection. It prevents those nasty little droplets coming through the air from hitting your eyes, nose and mouth directly. However, since the shield is open on the sides and bottom, it doesn’t keep your little droplets from escaping towards others.

Q.  Can I wear a face shield instead of a face mask?  
A.  The governor’s executive order mandates that you wear a face mask in public to help protect other people. If you want to wear a face shield to protect yourself, you may certainly do so. However, it would need to be worn in addition to the face mask in order for you to do your part in protecting others.

Q.  Does the face mask really do anything to protect others?
A.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the face mask is important in fighting the spread of COVID-19, especially in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Q.  What about a face mask with an exhalation valve – can I use that?
A.  The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others. Masks with one-way valves (see below) or vents allow exhaled air to be expelled out through holes in the material. This can allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, the CDC does not recommend using masks if they have an exhalation valve or vent.

Q.  How do I find a face mask that fits?
A.  Your face mask should fit snugly over your nose and mouth, leaving no gaps between your skin and the fabric. You can purchase face masks in different sizes, including those that are sized for children. Since the most breathable fabric for a mask is cotton or linen, make sure to wash your face covering in cold water and air dry it so that it does not shrink.

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