The debate over wearing face shields and our evolving understanding of COVID-19
Starting today, November 16, the use of face shields will no longer be required in areas placed under alert levels 3, 2, and 1 in relation to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte announced this policy shift through a memorandum signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
According to the memorandum, wearing face shields will still be mandatory in areas under alert level 5 and granular lockdowns and in medical and quarantine facility settings. For areas under alert level 4, local government units (LGUs) and private establishments are given the discretion to mandate the use of face shields.
The mandatory wearing of face shields has been controversial ever since it was implemented mainly because of the debate over its efficacy in protecting people from getting COVID-19. Face shields became even more maligned after it was revealed that the Philippine government spent billions of pesos in buying these as well as other medical supplies from a shady company named Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.
More importantly, there has also been no clear-cut scientific concensus on the effectiveness of face shields. The United States Center for Disease Control (US CDC), for instance, explained that face shields alone cannot be used as substitute for face masks. To be fair though, the Philippine government’s policy is to require both face masks and face shields.
Last December 2020, a team of CDC researchers published a study that reiterated that face shields “provide eye and facial protection to the wearer from droplets and splashes.” However, a group of physician-researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine concluded that “the use of plastic face shields with surgical masks provides the best protection against COVID-19 infection, but combining the two made little difference over the use of masks alone.”
In other words, it appears that wearing face shields alone is not recommended at all and that using it on top of having a face mask does not make you much more protected from COVID-19. Anyway, it seems that the Philippines is the only country in the world that requires face shields even without scientific basis.
Did the government push for it because it sincerely understood that it can be an additional protection during this pandemic? Or is it just a means for certain parties to profit? That will have to be investigated. But at least, the requirement has now been largely lifted. Better late than never! We can now move on to the question of what to do with these millions of face shields that will have to be disposed of eventually.