As we prepare for the start of the school year on Monday, August 24, we are faced with a challenge related to the wearing of face shields as a substitute for wearing a facial covering. On Saturday, August 15, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) deemed that the school-wide use of face shields does not meet the requirement of the state’s K-12 masking order.
The ODH is following federal guidance from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and prohibiting the use of face shields. The use of masks or face coverings is intended to reduce the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer into the environment, onto another person, or onto a surface. The mask or cloth face covering should cover the nose, mouth, and chin with little to no gap.
According to CDC, “At this time, it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer. There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control. Therefore, CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.”
Ohio’s K-12 masking order states that “all students, faculty, and staff in any child care setting, school building, or other location that provides care or education to any child in kindergarten through grade 12 in the State of Ohio shall wear facial coverings at all times.” There are exemptions, including, but not limited to, individuals with medical conditions, when eating or drinking, and when playing at recess.
If a student or staff member meets an exemption to the K-12 face-covering requirement, a face shield may be an option. According to the CDC, it is understood that some circumstances, such as the need for lip reading, require an alternative to masks. In those instances, a face shield should originate at the forehead with no gap, wrap around the sides of the face, and extend below the chin. When unable to use a mask, increased attention to other measures such as social distancing is imperative.
The ODH lists the following as exemptions to the K-12 face-covering requirement:
- “The individual has a medical condition including respiratory conditions that restricts breathing, mental health conditions, or a disability and that contraindicates the wearing of a facial covering; or
- The individual is communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired or has another disability, where an accommodation is appropriate or necessary;
- The individual is seated and actively consuming food or beverage;
- Where students and staff can maintain distancing of at least six (6) feet and removal of the facial covering is necessary for instructional purposes, including instruction in a foreign language, English language for non-native speakers. And other subjects where wearing a facial covering would prohibit participation in normal classroom activities, such as playing an instrument;
- Students are able to maintain a distance of six (6) feet or more and a mask break is deemed necessary by the educator supervising the educational setting;
- The individual is alone in an enclosed space, such as an office; or
- When an established sincerely held religious requirement exists that does not permit a facial covering.
Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the Ohio Department of Health about Face Shields.
Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 FAQs - Face Shields
COVID-19 is believed to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person — sometimes without showing any symptoms — coughs, sneezes, or talks. Research has shown that cloth face coverings can block these respiratory droplets. To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Ohio, face coverings, with some exceptions, are required in public places and in K-12 schools. Face shields have not been shown to be an adequate substitute.
Q: Should I wear a face shield instead of a mask or cloth face covering?
A: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks/face coverings. That is because, at this time, it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides against the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer to people nearby. There is currently not enough evidence to support the wearing of face shields to control the spray of respiratory droplets.
Q: Can exceptions be made for schools?
A: Ohio’s K-12 facial covering order requires facial coverings that cover the nose, mouth, and chin. There are limited exceptions to the order. If one of those exceptions applies to an individual, a face shield would be appropriate. School-wide use of face shields instead of masks is not appropriate and does not meet the requirements of the order.
Q: Why are masks and cloth face coverings required instead of face shields?
A: Masks and cloth face coverings are intended to reduce the amount of respiratory droplets sprayed from the wearer into the environment, onto other people, or onto surfaces. There is substantial evidence that they are effective at protecting people nearby from the spray of wearers.
Q: What about a situation in which a mask can’t reasonably be used?
A: It is understood that some circumstances (such as the need for lip reading) require an alternative to masks. If a face shield is used in those instances, it should be worn against the forehead with no gap, wrap around the sides of the face, and extend below the chin.
Q: What other precautions should I take if I must wear a face shield?
A: Social distancing of at least 6 feet from others provides an important layer of protection, even when masks are worn. If unable to use a mask, it is imperative that increased attention is placed on social distancing as well as other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; and increased cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.
Q: What else should I know if I must wear a face shield?
A: Always wash your hands before and after removing a face shield and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing it. Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use, and reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use according to manufacturer instructions or by following CDC face shield cleaning instructions.
Plastic face shields are NOT recommended for newborns and infants.
Masks/face coverings should NEVER be placed on children younger than 2 or anyone who cannot remove them without assistance.
For additional information, visit www.coronavirus.ohio.gov
For answers to your COVID-19 questions, call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).