Iowa Disease Experts Say Face Shields Could Help Country Reopen Safely

May 12, 2020

A group of infectious disease experts from the University of Iowa believes social distancing measures could be relaxed sooner if everyone wears a clear plastic face shield.

Dr. Michael Edmond is chief quality officer and an infectious diseases professor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He said he is working on modeling studies to determine whether universal face shield use could allow the country to safely reopen more quickly.

“We believe that that would be the case,” Dr. Edmond said. “That if every person were in a face shield, we would reduce transmission of the virus to the point that some of these other more drastic things that we have to do—like restricting people’s movements—those could be relaxed somewhat.”

Dr. Edmond, Dr. Eli Perencevich and Dr. Dan Diekema, all from the University of Iowa, wrote an article about face shields last month for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“There is growing recognition that containment strategies that rely on testing will be inadequate because the necessary testing capacity may not be available for weeks to months, and in the U.S. the ability to track, trace and quarantine is unclear,” the article reads.

They write that face shield use should be included in containment strategies to reduce the spread of the virus in communities.

Dr. Edmond said the face shields have several advantages.

“They’re more durable than face masks,” Dr. Edmond said. “The medical face masks don’t last very long at all. The cloth masks can be reused and laundered. But face shields can just be wiped off.”

He added face shields also protect the wearer’s eyes and prevent them from touching their face. They allow people to see facial expressions and lip movements, unlike with cloth masks.

He said face shields are readily available, unlike the medical face masks that have been in short supply and are largely being saved for use in health care facilities. Companies like Nike and Apple were able to quickly develop and manufacture face shields.

Dr. Edmond noted even if everyone wears face shields, handwashing would still be very important as would some social distancing.