Time to drop those face shields?
MANILA, Philippines — The government must now rethink the policy requiring people to wear face shields when leaving their homes, since there is no systematic study proving it has significantly reduced COVID-19 transmission, according to some doctors.
“What do all countries that have controlled COVID have in common? They never required face shields,” Dr. Gideon Lasco, a medical anthropologist, said in a recent post on social media.
“It’s time to end the Philippines’ baseless, inconvenient, and environmentally harmful face shield mandate, especially in outdoor spaces where there’s zero evidence of its benefit,” said Lasco, who also writes a column in the Inquirer.
The government has largely based the policy on an August 2020 study—“SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Community Health Workers in India Before and After Use of Face Shields”—published in the medical journal The Lancet. According to the study, 12 out of 62 community workers tested positive for the virus after they visited thousands of households in May 2020. Later, another 50 workers, this time wearing face shields, went to the communities but none of them was infected.
But according to another doctor, Benjamin Co, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases, the study was only a “research letter, which is different from a well-controlled study.”
In separate interviews on Wednesday, Lasco and Co said face shields—particularly the hospital-grade variety—work only in hospital settings or in indoor and poorly ventilated areas.
Co said such types of face shields work only because [those] are sealed, unlike those commonly sold to the public which are “porous on all sides.”
“Why do you even want to add another layer of useless material for people to use?” he asked, noting that the plastic covers are not only uncomfortable but also unhygienic since the wearers do not normally sanitize them after use.
For eye protection, Co said, eyeglasses and sunglasses should suffice since “we now know that unless you keep rubbing your eyes, you do not get SARS-CoV-2 just through your eyes.”
“Science evolves and we know more about the virus. I hope the [gov’t] adjusts to the new science and evidence and not remain fixated with a policy [crafted early in] the pandemic,” he said.
The government started requiring the use of face shields together with face masks in public places in December 2020. Previously, face shields were only a must in enclosed public spaces or public transportation.
But according to Dr. Edsel Salvana, a government technical adviser and infectious diseases expert, Filipino doctors have calculated that wearing both mask and shield, plus social distancing, is 90-percent effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
“Unfortunately, [there is] still only about 30 percent compliance [with the requirement to put on] face shields,” Salvana said on Wednesday.
Salvana disagreed with Lasco and Co, saying that in countries where people never used face shields—like the United States, France, United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal — COVID-19 deaths “are 10 times (that in Philippines) per million population.”
To say that only the Philippines required face shields and other countries did not was “a nonsensical argument,” Salvana said.
Peru has also made face shields mandatory in indoor public places.
In the US, studies conducted at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, showed that the use of both plastic face shields and surgical masks provided the best protection against infection, but that combining the two made little difference over the use of masks alone.
In a text message on Wednesday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III echoed Salvana’s position, saying face shields “are not useless per studies.”
—WTIH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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