Not all wearables require complex electronics in order to be effectiive. The search for the ultimate personal protective equipment continues as the pandemic rages on. We wrote about masks that emphasize fashion with protection from Cambridge Mask Company and Blanc. We also covered the GTX tap and track smart face shield. This reusable shield also tracks location via integrated near-field communication (NFC) to track movements and contacts in case a wearer tests positive for COVID-19.

A recent and notably cautiously-presented study from Chennai, India, presents a case for equipping healthcare workers with face shields in addition to masks to protect these vulnerable people from extraordinary exposure to the virus. Researchers from Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute studied SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission in a community setting before and after using face shields.

A test population of 62 community health workers — who all tested negative for coronavirus on May 1 — lived and worked under isolated, protected conditions from the beginning of May through June 30. The workers were all assigned to counsel asymptomatic family members of patients who tested positive for the virus. The family counseling sessions were in the families’ homes. During the two month test period, the workers isolated from each other and did not go to their family homes. They were also separated by a steel partition to prevent airflow with a driver who transported them to the family homes in a small van. Worker PPE included alcohol hand rubs, 3-layered surgical masks, gloves, and shoe covers. When the workers met with families, they stood six feet distance while teaching them about protective procedures and coronavirus symptoms. From May 3 to 15, the workers visited 5880 homes and 31,164 people. During that period, 222 client family members tested positive for the virus. After two workers began to show symptoms, all workers were re-tested. Twelve workers were tested positive for the coronavirus, eight who developed symptoms, and four who were asymptomatic. The 12 workers were isolated. Symptomatic workers were treated, and all eventually recovered. The home visits halted from May 15 to May 20.

Starting on May 20, the remaining 50 health workers began using face shields in addition to the other PPE. The shields were decontaminated with an alcohol solution after each visit and soaked with detergent and water at the end of each day. From May 20 to June 30, the health workers visited 18,228 homes and met with 118,428 persons, 2,682 of whom later tested positive for SARA-CoV-2. None of the 50 workers who wore face shields tested positive for the virus.

The researchers were careful to mention the unique living and working circumstances of the health workers and suggest that the result of the study warrant further face shield testing. We think it’s impressive that the authors downplayed the effectiveness of the face shield protection. The study controlled an inordinate number of variables to minimize workers’ exposure to the virus. The workers who used face shields visited a vast number of client families, and the program ran for 40 days. It’s certainly possible that other factors, unknown or unmentioned, were in play. Still, it certainly appears that face shields made a dramatically significant difference protecting people who put themselves in known hazardous conditions multiple times daily for an extended period. I’m ordering face shields today.