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Can plastic face shields prevent the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms?

The Texas Education Agency’s guidance about using face shields in place of masks on a school campus differs from what the CDC recommends.

DALLAS — As Texas teachers and students started returning to on-campus instruction, some opted for clear plastic face shields instead of masks.

While most shields provide a wrap-around plastic barrier covering the face and reaching below the chin, there is open space below the wearer's mouth and nose.

Shields do, however, allow the wearer's full face to be seen.

"I don’t think it’s going to offer much in the way of protection, because particles can travel around the face shield itself," said Dr. John Carlo, the CEO of Prism Health and the former medical director for Dallas County Health and Human Services.

The guidance provided to Texas schools from the Texas Education Agency states full-face shields may be used in place of a mask when a mask “is not feasible,” or when there would be educational benefit from seeing an individual’s face.

According to CDC guidance, only a select group of teachers and staff should “consider” using clear face shields:  those who are teaching young students to read, working with students who have disabilities or students with hearing impairments, or those teaching students to speak English.

The CDC does not recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for a cloth mask “because of a lack of evidence of their effectiveness.”

The TEA did not respond to an email from WFAA asking if the agency believes its guidance is in line with CDC recommendations.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2020, file photo, wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID19, elementary school students use hand sanitizer before entering school for classes in Godley, Texas. As schools reopen around the country, their ability to quickly identify and contain coronavirus outbreaks before they get out of hand is about to be put to the test. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Dr. Mark Casanova, president of the Dallas County Medical Society, said there is not enough clear data to know whether shields are effective.

“I do think something is better than nothing,” he said.

Shields might be preferable for teachers during certain lessons or for students who can’t seem to stop fidgeting with their masks, Casanova said.

“There is room for pragmatism,” he said.

“I think the encouragement should be that for all individuals, even young ones, who can wear a face mask and keep their hands away from it and keep it on during the duration of the day, that is the preferred method.”

Carlo said the TEA guidance is “reasonable.”

“I do think the face shield is not as good as the face mask in trapping or reducing respiratory droplet spread,” Carlo said, "but I think what the TEA has said – and I think it’s probably reasonable – if you can’t use the face mask for whatever reason, the face shield could be used as an alternative. But it’s probably not as good as the face mask in offering that protection."

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