As back-to-school time approaches for the 2020-21 academic year, the school shopping debate likely won't focus on the hottest lunch boxes. Instead, face coverings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus will be the debate.

Knowing how to use a sewing machine is no longer required; face masks are being made by popular designers like Adidas, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle. But will they be effective? And, will school-age children and teens wear them properly, especially in elementary schools? There's an alternative solution being considered for the educational setting—clear plastic face shields.

There's considerable discussion happening on whether face shields or masks are more effective. While the CDC currently recommends (for anyone over the age of two) "cloth face a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people," there is growing interest in face shields as an alternative. An article in the New York Times, which interviewed infectious disease doctors, reported, "The clear plastic guards may be easier to wear, disinfect and reuse than cloth or surgical face coverings." According to a trio of  physicians associated with the University of Iowa in an opinion piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association, "Face shields, which can be quickly and affordably produced and distributed, should be included as part of strategies to safely and significantly reduce transmission in the community setting." 

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In addition to covering the mouth and nose, face shields protect the eyes, which are missed by face masks. Touching the face is reduced because shields are not adjusted frequently like face masks. They allow for clearer breathing, improved clarity of speaking, and a full view of facial expressions, which could help teachers and students communicate more effectively. Face shields made of clear plastic are also easily sanitized with soap and water or a 70% alcohol solution.  

face mask vs face shield

In recent interviews with Kansas City news station Fox 4, I demonstrated IDD's face shield product that comes in adult and kid sizes. In addition to my knowledge of plastics, I bring my experience as a middle school parent to IDD's discussions with school districts, which are weighing the options for personal protective equipment (PPE) like desk and reception area barriers and face shields for students returning to school in the fall.

No doubt the first back-to-school season since the dawn of COVID-19 will be challenging for budget-stretched school districts. Personal protective equipment geared for the school environment could make the difference in schools being a safe place to learn or not.

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