Moving Personal Protective Equipment Into the Community Face Shields and Containment of COVID-19

Eli N. Perencevich, Daniel J. Diekema, Michael B. Edmond

Published online April 29, 2020.


Face shields come in various forms, but all provide a clear plastic barrier that covers the face. For optimal protection, the shield should extend below the chin anteriorly, to the ears laterally, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece. Face shields require no special materials for fabrication and production lines can be repurposed fairly rapidly. Numerous companies, including Apple, Nike, GM, and John Deere, have all started producing face shields. These shields can be made from materials found in craft or office supply stores. Thus, availability of face shields is currently greater than that of medical masks.

Face shields offer a number of advantages. While medical masks have limited durability and little potential for reprocessing, face shields can be reused indefinitely and are easily cleaned with soap and water, or common household disinfectants. They are comfortable to wear, protect the portals of viral entry, and reduce the potential for autoinoculation by preventing the wearer from touching their face. People wearing medical masks often have to remove them to communicate with others around them; this is not necessary with face shields. The use of a face shield is also a reminder to maintain social distancing, but allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.

Most important, face shields appear to significantly reduce the amount of inhalation exposure to influenza virus, another droplet-spread respiratory virus. In a simulation study, face shields were shown to reduce immediate viral exposure by 96% when worn by a simulated health care worker within 18 inches of a cough. Even after 30 minutes, the protective effect exceeded 80% and face shields blocked 68% of small particle aerosols, which are not thought to be a dominant mode of transmission of SARS-CoV-2. When the study was repeated at the currently recommended physical distancing distance of 6 feet, face shields reduced inhaled virus by 92%, similar to distancing alone, which reinforces the importance of physical distancing in preventing viral respiratory infections. 

Of note, no studies have evaluated the effects or potential benefits of face shields on source control, ie, containing a sneeze or cough, when worn by asymptomatic or symptomatic infected persons. However, with efficacy ranges of 68% to 96% for a single face shield, it is likely that adding source control would only improve efficacy, and studies should be completed quickly to evaluate this.