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Face Shields: Are They as Effective as We’d Like to Think?

As the pandemic has taken its toll on society, masks have become integrated into our daily lives. Masks with various patterns and even rhinestones have become popularized to add another level to your outfit and provide a little more fashion sense while still helping to keep yourself and others safe from the spread of COVID-19. In the working world, face shields have become popularized as they provide protection during your shift while still allowing for easy breathing. Reducing the stifling effects of a cloth mask can help employees perform better under these new circumstances and keep up the same expectations for productivity. 

Michigan Tech’s Contribution

Michigan Tech has even become involved in the idea of using face shields instead of masks in order to make long-term protection a little bit easier. By August, more than 850 face shields were 3D printed in the Van Pelt and Opie library. These masks are specifically designed for professors that are teaching face-to-face to allow them to speak more clearly and stay safe at the same time. They are adjustable, headset compatible, and direct exhalations behind the professor and away from the students. The design has been modeled after the face shields used commonly by health care workers and first responders with modifications to make them more comfortable and effective in a closed classroom environment. 

They haven’t stopped there. Michigan Tech has paired with the Western UP Health Department (WUPHD) to start printing out thousands of face shields for the health care workers. As soon as more are printed, they are distributed by the WUPHD to health care facilities desperately in need of more supplies. Face shields have also been distributed to law enforcement organizations, hospital laboratories, and even dental offices. Michigan Tech plans to keep up the good work in printing more face shields for the community as long as they need to, but production will most likely slow down once face shields are distributed throughout the community where they are needed and demand begins to decline.

Face Shields in the Workplace

But what about the regular face shields that have been used by employees for months now? This new technology has not been implemented for long. While the new face shields are a dramatic improvement to the current situation, the majority of the pandemic was spent with employees using the old design. The CDC states that common face shields are not an effective substitute for the usual face masks. The design of the face shields commonly used already does not provide enough protection to stop your breath from traveling underneath the bottom of the plastic shield, while a face mask stops the breath directly in front of your face. The open gap at the bottom provides an easy escape and can let the particles in your breath, some even being COVID-19, to spread into the air around you. 

This creates a difficult situation. How do we ensure people’s safety in the workplace while reducing the stifling conditions a face mask can have when wearing it long-term in a hot environment? Michigan Tech’s new face shields hold the answer in redirecting air flow from inside the shield, but these new engineered shields are not widespread enough to be used by more than health care workers, law enforcement, and professors at the moment. Unfortunately, minimum wage workers will more than likely have to wait until hospitals and other essential workers receive their face shields before they can have access to them. This is the only way to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread as easily, while also practicing social distancing guidelines. 

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