Face shield comeback? Eyebrows raised over DepEd’s guidelines for physical classes

July 20, 2022 - 6:10 PM
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The national government allows the voluntary use face shields mandate in areas under Alert Levels 1, 2 and 3 as the Philippines sees a new surge in COVID-19 infections in January 2022. (The STAR/Walter Bollozos)

Return of the face shields?

One of the guidelines released by the education department for the full shift to physical classes earned questions and concerns from social media users.

The Department of Education has enumerated guidelines to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in light of the anticipated face-to-face interactions among students, teachers and personnel.

These can be seen in DepEd Order 34 (series of 2022).

The first guideline focuses on using face shields, which have been no longer voluntary since last year. It reads:

“Face masks shall be mandatory in the re-opening of classes. A face shield may be used in lieu of a face mask for activities requiring the entire face of an individual to be visible.”

The plastic barriers have become voluntary under COVID-19 Alert Levels 1-3 since November 2021.

However, commercial establishments and employers have the option to require its use on their premises.

Even so, the protective gear has become an uncommon sight as majority of the regions have been in the lowest alert levels for some time already.

But its return to classrooms raised concerns among some Filipinos who pointed out that the virus can be transmitted through the air.

“Faceshield? Kelan ba natin i-accept na airborne transmission ang COVID? Walang epek ang face shield. Gastos,” a Twitter user commented in response to the guideline.

“Face shield pa din? ‘Di ba maraming ng pag-aaral ang ginawa na nagpapatunay na ‘di nakakatulong ang face sheld dahil ang COVID ay airborne?” another online user partly wrote.

As of Tuesday, Education Secretary and Vice President Sara Duterte said that the agency is now planning for a blended type of learning in certain areas. However, the order to have physical classes by November still stands.

What experts are saying 

Meanwhile, physicians previously suggested the government to strictly implement face mask wearing, the practice of proper ventilation in establishments, physical distancing and COVID-19 vaccination.

The suggestions came after the government had raised the possibility of reimposing the mandatory wearing of face shields last November, after the Omicron variant was tagged as a “variant of concern.”

Face shields began to be mandated in the country in December 2020 as a means to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

However, studies have noted that it is not helpful as the virus is airborne in nature. For comparison, aerosol transmission has been likened to how cigarette smoke behaves in the air.

A 2020 study published in the journal Physics of Fluids found that although face shields block the initial forward motion of one’s cough or sneeze, the expelled droplets can move around the visor “with relative ease and spread out over a large area.”

The simulation that the researchers performed showed that droplets had remained suspended at the bottom of the shield and spread to the front and sides of the mannequin used for the study.

“For the face shield simulation, the shield initially deflected droplets toward the ground after a cough. But small droplets remained suspended at the bottom of the shield and then floated around the sides, eventually spreading about 3 feet (0.9 meters) to the front and sides of the mannequin. In some cases, the droplets spread backward, behind the mannequin, instead of forward,” the authors were quoted as saying.

Two experts similarly said that face shields are “not tight fitting” and that “aerosols may still enter and exit around the outside of a face shield, where it’s not fitted in the same way a mask is.”

Wind engineer Joshua Agar from the University of the Philippines also argued that the plastic barriers might do more harm than good.

“Ang tendency ay nagkakaroon ng negative pressure region doon sa face shields so nag-a-act siya as suction, so hinihigop niya kung ano man ‘yung nasa air so most likely, pati ‘yung virus,” he said in a 2021 interview.

He added that the direction of air changes around one’s head through the formation of masses of air that are whirlwind-like in between the face and the shield.

These formations of masses tend to trap air in, increasing one’s chance of inhaling the virus.

A physician recalled some of Agar’s posts where the latter shared simulations involving face shields.