Should you be wearing a face shield over your n95 mask?

Personal protective equipment, also known commonly as PPE, has become part of our daily lives. For this reason, everybody must be informed about the main pieces of PPE necessary for the pandemic. In this article, we’ll discuss the face shields and the N95 respirators, and the benefits of wearing them together for protection against the virus responsible for COVID-19.

Face shields: what are they

Face shields are a type of personal protective equipment made with a transparent or see-through material, usually plastic, that is used around the face to prevent the transmission of diseases that can be carried by fluids. The clear plastic forms a shield, hence the name, around the wearer’s face, protecting the eyes, mouth, and nose from splashes of bodily fluids during medical or dental procedures. These fluids include blood, respiratory secretions, among others that can contain infectious pathogens, preventing the healthcare provider from infection. Other types of face shields are also used in other industries, intended to protect the face of the worker from impact hazards like flying fragments, large chips, and other particles.

They’ve been widely used by healthcare providers and other people as well for extra protection during the coronavirus pandemic, adding eye protection and extra protection to the mouth and nose when used with a face mask. Aside from the coronavirus, many other illnesses can be transmitted through fluids reaching the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and mouth, but particularly this respiratory virus that has been causing a public health crisis calls for this extra protection in people that find themselves in high-risk situations, like healthcare workers.

N95 masks: a brief explanation

N95 masks are considered the best disposable face mask for protection against the coronavirus. They’re the best ones for virus protection, with higher antiviral properties than surgical, medical, or reusable face masks. This is why they’re being prioritized for healthcare workers and other first responders on the frontlines of the pandemic. The most popular and most purchased N95 masks are probably 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511 models.

The term ‘N95’ comes from the classification for respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH. This institution, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is in charge of regulating and testing respirators for their use in several different work industries inside the United States.

Respirators are a central part of the PPE in many workplaces with respiratory hazards. They are mask or mask-like devices that contain a filtering media that traps any of those harmful particles in the air, preventing the user from inhaling them. Some of these particles include dust, smoke, and microorganisms like viruses or bacteria as well.

According to this classification, N95 respirators are those that are not resistant to oil and can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles in the environment, making them effective toward non-oil based particles. These particles include dust, smoke, and bioaerosols like the flu virus or the virus responsible for COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2

Every N95 respirator needs to be approved by NIOSH to be considered legitimate and to make sure it provides 95% protection against non-oil based particles. If the respirator doesn’t have this certification, it can’t be called N95. For respirators to be used in healthcare settings, they need additional approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but amid the coronavirus pandemic, they granted Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) to many respirator models that weren’t regulated by them before.

KN95 masks are face masks regulated under the Chinese standards for respirator filtration, and they often get confused with N95 masks. Even though they’re technically not the same face mask, they’re generally considered to be interchangeable, and KN95 masks can be used as a substitute for N95 respirators during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. The FDA has granted many KN95 masks with a EUA as well.

Wearing a face shield over a face mask

As we explained, the new novel coronavirus is a respiratory infectious pathogen that causes COVID-19, a disease that can be anywhere from asymptomatic to lethal. The virus enters the body through fluid droplets that are expelled from an infected person's mouth or nose when they sneeze, cough, or just talk. If the droplet contains the virus and it’s inhaled by the person, either via the nose or mouth, or if it reaches the person’s eyes, it starts replicating and colonizing the person’s airways.

This is why wearing a face shield with a face mask is a good option for increasing protection: it offers eye protection and doubles up on mouth and nose protection as well. But, one thing that is important to emphasize is that face shields are in no way a substitute for face masks. They’re only effective for virus protection when they’re paired with a face mask, like the N95 respirators. On their own, there’s no proof that they can protect someone from either spreading or getting COVID-19. The particles in the air can still go through the open areas of the face shield, so if you wear them without a face mask, you’re not getting effective protection against the coronavirus. 

The USA is suffering from a shortage of some of the most important pieces of PPE, and this is why medical-grade face masks need to be reserved for our workers on the frontlines. You can find a lot of alternatives for sale online, with options to buy in bulk or wholesale, and even options in a smaller size for kids. Remember that anyone who uses a face-covering is protecting not only themselves but those around them as well.

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