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Infectious Diseases

05 July 2020

Children and Covid-19: Are face shields an effective alternative to face masks?

Getting children to wear both face shields and masks in class can be uncomfortable and distracting, but alternating between the two is a safe option, says an expert.

  • As schools across SA are slowly reopening, wearing face masks has become mandatory
  • However, in some cases, learners may wear a face shield as well
  • Paediatrician, Professor Claudia Gray, believes alternating between the two is perfectly safe

Getting your child to wear a face mask is already a daunting task, and asking them to wear a face shield over the mask might be an even bigger struggle. Although face masks have become compulsory in public in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, many children may find it particularly irritating donning both simultaneously.

Professor Claudia Gray, paediatrician and allergist at Kids Allergy – Paediatric and Allergy Centre, said in a live interview hosted by the Allergy Foundation South Africa (AFSA) on Wednesday that face masks and face shields have slightly different functions, but that children being required to wear both together is a little “over the top”.

“Face masks and face shields have slightly different functions. Face masks have long-standing evidence in their favour. Their main function is to catch your own droplets when you speak or sneeze,” Gray said, explaining that evidence shows that sneezing can cause droplets to travel up to six metres.

All about compliance in kids

“So the main function of masks is actually to protect others, and to a smaller degree to protect yourself,” Gray said, continuing: 

“Face shields actually catch other people's droplets, so they’re not as protective to the person you are speaking to, but they protect you nicely. In children, especially the younger children who have not borne out to be as transmissible as adults (children under the age of 10), I think either one or the other should suffice, together with physical distancing.”

Gray said that it is “fair behaviour” for schools to implement wearing a face shield and alternating this with a face mask for young students especially.

“It’s all about compliance in kids and whatever we can do to help them is absolutely great because they are also, of course, trying to physical distance by sitting 1.5 to two metres apart in the classroom, so I think that [alternating] is a good strategy.”

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Image: Nicolò Campo/Getty