Mixed messages from health officials on face shields leads to different policies at schools

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Face coverings have literally become the must-have fall accessory as students return to in-person classes, but schools differ on which types to allow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against face shields in classrooms, but state and some county health officials — while acknowledging their limitations — allow them. As a result, policies regarding face coverings vary between districts. In Zionsville and Westfield, face masks must be worn with face shields. In Noblesville, face shields may be worn in certain situations as long as social distancing is possible. In Carmel, students and teachers may choose between face masks and face shields.
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said face shields can be “a good alternative for schools.” He said the CDC is primarily concerned with source control, or preventing spread from an infected person, which is why it advises against them.

“(The CDC) isn’t worrying about the benefit to the wearer,” Adalja said. “They’re basing it on an idea of not looking at the face covering wholistically but looking at one aspect of it.”

Adalja said there are many benefits to face shields. He said they are much more likely to be worn correctly than face masks, which can slip below the nose and are removed more often. Face shields also provide eye protection that masks cannot.

“Outside of a health care setting, a face shield is equivalent to how people effectively wear masks,” Adalja said.

Dr. Rocky Singh, chief medical officer of IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region, said face masks are preferred in schools because many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

“The best option is to cover the source of infection, and the source of infection doesn’t come from the eyes, it only comes out from the nose with sneezing or the mouth with coughing,” Singh said. “As long as those are covered, the CDC feels there is adequate protection in the general population.”

Christian Walker, Hamilton County Health Dept. emergency preparedness coordinator, acknowledged that face shields are “not as effective” as cloth masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but he said they are permitted because they are the best option in some classroom situations, such as with young students learning to read.

“We need to be able to make some reasonable accommodations for people,” Walker said. “That’s where social distancing also helps.”

Carmel Clay Schools Supt. Michael Beresford said face coverings, social distancing, hand-washing and staying home when sick, when used together, are the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a school setting.

“I’ve not found anybody in the medical community that disagrees,” he said.

Beresford said CCS will continue to work with state and local health professionals and adapt as needed.

“We have to follow the guidance of the medical community, because that’s their job, they are in charge of public health,” Beresford said. “When they change, we’ll adjust.”


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