Authorities: Face masks edge shields

ShopRite, Lowe's and Hannaford Supermarket are among stores allowing employees to wear plastic face shields in place of face masks for protection against the COVID-19 virus. File photo

HUDSON — Several local businesses are allowing employees to wear plastic face shields and health authorities say they might not be as safe as face masks in protecting against the novel coronavirus.

Store employees at Hannaford Supermarket in Livingston, ShopRite in Hudson and Lowe’s in Greenport have been seen wearing clear face shields instead of face masks.

Plastic face shields, which are affixed to the wearer’ head with a headband, may not protect against COVID-19 as well as face masks, according to the Columbia County Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The face shield’s as not as protective as a mask is,” Jack Mabb, director of the Columbia County Department of Health, said Tuesday. “It is an alternative that the CDC allows for individuals who truly can’t wear a mask.”

Businesses must require their employees to wear a face covering, but a business is not violating any laws or rules if the employee is wearing a shield, Mabb said.

“It’s not a best practice, if you will,” Mabb said, “but it’s not breaking any of the governor’s orders because it is a face covering. It is somewhat protective, but it’s not ideal.”

The governor’s mandate requires that any person older than two years who is able to medically tolerate a face covering is required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face covering when in a public place where they are unable to maintain social distance. Face coverings can include, but are not limited to, cloth masks — including homemade, sewn, quick cut or bandana — surgical masks and N-95 respirators, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.

“I would say there is a slightly elevated risk of potential exposure if a person is wearing just a face shield,” Mabb said. “If I were you and that person was actively coughing, I would go to a different register.”

Stores and businesses are required to post signage reminding customers and employees to wear face coverings, Mabb added.

ShopRite, Hannaford and Lowe’s all have signs posted on their customer entrances. Each business also has a COVID mask policy posted on their company website.

Hannaford’s website states that masks and gloves are available to all store employees and the store requires all workers to wear masks.

“We follow all of the state requirements,” said Hannaford spokeswoman Ericka Dodge. “Our policy on face masks and face shields adheres to the governor’s executive order on that.”

The Lowe’s website describes what the store has done to enhance protections because of COVID. Lowe’s has added overhead announcements, floor markers and guidelines as well as installed customized Plexiglas shields at all points of sale to protect customers, cashiers and customer service associates, according to the company’s website. Lowe’s announced in July it was adopting a nationwide mask requirement for customers and employees so masks or face coverings would be required in all Lowe’s stores, not just those in states with mask policies.

“Throughout this pandemic, our associates have worked tirelessly so customers could get the goods and services they needed for their homes and small businesses,” Lowe’s President and CEO Marvin Ellison said in July when the requirement was adopted. “For the safety of everyone in our stores, we ask that customers wear masks, and to make this new standard less restrictive, we will make masks available to those who need them.”

The company statement does not specify what kind of face covering would be required.

ShopRite requires face coverings in its New York stores, according to the company’s website.

“Our ShopRite locations in New York require face coverings to be worn by both shoppers and associates in accordance with the state’s executive order issued by Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo,” spokesman Daniel Emmer from Wakefern Food Corp., which owns ShopRite, said in a statement. “Our stores are also in full compliance with guidelines issued by the New York State Department of Health.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises masks are more effective in protecting against the virus than plastic face shields.

“The CDC does not recommend using face shields and goggles as a substitute for masks,” according to the CDC website.

Face shields have large gaps below and along the face where respiratory droplets my escape, according to the CDC.

“At this time, we do not know how much protection a face shield provides to people around you. However, wearing a mask may not be feasible in every situation for some people,” according to the CDC.

In a medical setting, people use face shields and goggles along with a face mask because it provides greater protection, Mabb said.

“If you are out in public and you wear a face shield and a mask you have close to maximum protection,” Mabb said. “With just a face shield there’s lots of ways for droplets to get out from an individual who has just a face shield on, and for them to breathe in droplets.”

Bill Van Slyke, spokesman for Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson, said hospital employees wear both a mask and a shield at the same time when dealing with patients or delivering patient care.

“With our staff, the face masks are worn at all times, and eye protection, like face shields, are worn when they are facing towards a patient,” Van Slyke said.

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