The University of Botswana says that face shields that are worn as a COVID-19 infection-control measure, should always be paired with face masks.
“If worn properly, the face shield is very good for protecting the wearer, especially that it also covers the eyes which can be portals of infection,” says Mhitshane Reetsang, who is UB’s Director Public Affairs.
She adds though thatsince the face shield doesn’t fit tightly around the nose and mouth, some droplets may escape onto a surface or clothes should the wearer sneeze or cough. When touched by another person, the surface or clothes may transmit COVID-19.
Last week parliament met for a special session to debate COVID-19 regulations and all MPs were required to observe health guidelines issued by the Director of Health services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness. When the Leader of the Opposition, Dumelang Saleshando, showed up wearing a transparent glass face shield, there was public uproar in some quarters of Facebook which, during the lockdown, was an important source of information for a jittery public. In allaying fears about a gadget that he was still wearing the following day, the Maun West MP prefaced his contribution to the debate on the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 by stating that the face shield he had worn the previous day had been manufactured by UB students and that the one he was wearing on that day had been manufactured by a local company.
Thereafter, the issue of whether it is safe to wear a face shield as a COVID-19 control measure was never substantively dealt with. Commenting on what Saleshando had said, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Eric Molale, quipped that he (Saleshando) should also have given props to the Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Douglas Letsholathebe, who had “designed” the shield. It would seem that Molale overstated his cabinet colleague’s role because while he (Letsholathebe, himself a former physics lecturer at UB) was instrumental in the manufacture of the shield, he didn’t actually design it.
While the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Lemogang Kwape, did rise on a point of clarification at a later stage and said that Saleshando was supposed to be wearing a face mask, his intervention was not in the form of a stern public health instruction. He also didn’t followed up with a point-of-order interjection when Saleshando didn’t wear a mask. MPs typically rib each other across the aisle and some people who watched the proceedings live on Btv still think that Kwape was merely ribbing Saleshando and not instructing him to pair the shield with a mask. The latter impression would have been reinforced by the minister, who is also the Kanye South MP, remarking that Saleshando is his cousin – which could well be because Saleshando’s mother was from Kanye.
The apparent ambiguity in Kwape’s response was the reason Sunday Standard sought crystal-clear clarification about this very important public health issue from UB. TV and other pictures show that in some parts of the world, the face shield is always paired with the face mask. More and more people, especially shop assistants in Gaborone, are taking to wearing face shields without masks. As UB advises, this is the not the proper thing to do.
“Wearing both significantly improves protection of the wearer and others around them,” says Reetsang, who consulted extensively with the Dean of UB’s Faculty of Medicine, Professor Oathokwa Nkomazana, over this issue.
Reetsang notes that while shields have particular advantages over the mask, they also have a deficiency.
“Shields are better than cloth masks with one layer,” she says. “They are very good for containing large droplets – like saliva when people are talking, and for small droplets – as when people are sneezing.”
The shields are also better than masks for people who wear spectacles as the latter won’t mist. On the downside, shields may allow the inhalation of droplets because, unlike face masks, they don’t cover the nose.
As evident, face shields are increasingly being worn by many more people in Gaborone, especially staff at some shops. Contrary to UB’s health advice, these people are wearing the shields without a face mask – which can have disastrous consequences. With the lockdown have been eased within zones, many more people will be out and about and some among them may opt for shields without masks. Beyond what UB and this article can do, the Ministry of Health and Wellness would itself have to explain this issue to members of the public who at this point would be confused.
At this point, UB has produced 1065 face shields and according to Reetsang’s revelation, they are one of the four COVID-19 response projects that staff at the faculties of medicine and engineering and technology are collaborating on.
“Government’s expectations on research institutions were that they respond in the fight against the spread of corona virus,” she says. “The production of face shields was one of UB’s responses to this call.”
The other projects are production of ventilators, respiratory hoods and nebuliser masks. This collaboration takes the form of research and development, prototyping and the actual production.
The face shields are on sale through a four-tier pricing system: less than 20 units are sold at P158 per unit; between 20 and 50 units are sold at P150.10 per unit with a 5 percent discount; between 51 and 100 units are sold at P145.36 per unit with an 8 percent discount; and more than 100 units are sold at P142.20 per unit with a 10 percent discount. The face shields are produced on demand but those who want small quantities of less than 50 units can walk into Block 250 at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at the UB campus in Gaborone and buy the shields. Those who would like to make an inquiry or place bulk orders can contact Professor Richie Moalosi at 71427876.