Mask only, or face shield + mask?
October 28, 2020 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I am volunteering as an election worker on November 3. I'm not particularly at-risk, but I am anxious. Help me optimize safety.

I have a couple of high quality masks in sealed packages. This will allow me to put on one mask in the morning before I go in, and put on a fresh mask after eating lunch outside.

I have a face shield also. I'm thinking of whether to wear it *in addition to* a mask. It has a foam piece that rests on my forehead, gentle elastic that wraps around my head, and the plastic extends all the way around the sides of my face and down just a bit below my chin. On one hand, I think this might protect my eyes and keep me from absentmindedly touching my face. On the other hand, I've read that aerosols can get trapped behind a face shield so that I'd be breathing them in even more. Will the face shield increase or decrease my risk overall?

I also have hand sanitizer.

I am going to try to limit water drinking and bathroom breaks. One day of only hydrating early morning / midday at lunch / late evening shouldn't be a big deal, right?

There unfortunately is no way to get access to the polling location ahead of time. It is a school auditorium, kind of old, and probably doesn't have great ventilation. I will try to encourage set-up near the entrance and keeping the doors open. Would it be super helpful to try to bring a box fan from home?

Any other ideas? Please try to be reassuring and provide concrete actions I can do.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here are my observations:

My dental hygienist wore a mask and a face shield. I had trouble understanding what she said at times, but that was largely due to background noise. They had me use hand sanitizer on arrival and again on departure.

A doctor told me that gloves are a no-no for medical professionals since they can spread the virus and make people overconfident
posted by SemiSalt at 10:47 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

The face shield doesn't do anything for circulating aerosols, but gives some extra protection against airborne particles that are coming straight at you (e.g., someone exhales in our direction from within a few feet). Which in the environment of working the polls might help. And I'm more than a bit skeptical about claims it could increase risk except in really weird mostly theoretical circumstances. So yeah, I would wear it and feel more comfortable with it on.

Consider taking it off if you can get breaks where you catch some fresh air away from people.

Thanks for volunteering!
posted by mark k at 10:49 AM on October 28, 2020 [10 favorites]

A friend of mine is also election volunteering and she will be wearing a mask and a face shield just as you plan to. She's not a doctor or anything but she's a good hearted person doing much needed work and trying to do the right thing to protect herself and others, and she is making the same choices as you. If that helps.

Personally I would not limit hydrating. It's going to be a long day and if nothing else bathroom breaks will give you a chance to wash your hands. Use a straw to sneak sips in without having to move your mask too much, keep the straw covered with something while your bottle is idle. Last thing you want is to get a headache in a day that is already stressful. (I dehydrate quickly and get bad symptoms, YMMV.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:54 AM on October 28, 2020 [11 favorites]

Hi, thanks for volunteering. I know it feels scary but poll work is generally lowish risk mainly because people are usually moving through the spaces. I work the polls in my town and have for eight years. I think a face shield (which, yes, my dentist wore also) is a good idea specifically because of face touching. Also you can put (non-political) stickers on it. I had also not heard the "Aerosols get caught there" information and I would discount it unless it comes from a trusted medical source. Be good about your boundaries with people, try for a position that feels "safer" to you (there are often many roles you can have when working, I did an outside job last time).

Stop for breaks, maybe go outside for a drink or something to eat. A quick bathroom break in a well-ventilated bathroom is fairly low risk but use sanitizer after you use it. Balance the risk of being dehydrated and/or low-food cranky with wanting to not publicly eat/drink. If you have a friend you are in touch with, think about keeping a low level text chat going to give you something you enjoy doing and lower your stress levels. Depending on your location, people waiting to vote may be tired and cranky but usually YOU are the person who can help them solve their problem which can be nice. I have always been surprised how gracious people can be about and towards people who are doing poll work. I hope it goes well for you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:01 AM on October 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have a face shield also. I'm thinking of whether to wear it *in addition to* a mask. It has a foam piece that rests on my forehead, gentle elastic that wraps around my head, and the plastic extends all the way around the sides of my face and down just a bit below my chin. On one hand, I think this might protect my eyes and keep me from absentmindedly touching my face.

Just passing along an in-person voting experience I had here in Canada: I voted in a federal by-election here in Toronto on Monday. All of the poll workers at the polling station I went to were wearing non-medical masks plus full face shields. My understanding is that this was the standard equipment provided to them by Elections Canada.

Look at it this way -- if the face shield puts you a little more at ease and works as a "don't touch your face" reminder, go for it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:04 AM on October 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

I’m lucky enough to be a fly on the wall for monthly briefings by my hospital’s director of infectious disease control, and she has made it clear that providers should be wearing shields in addition to masks (made it clear, that is, by noting that this is where the biggest staff compliance problems are observed). So in your shoes, if I had a face shield, I’d wear one. Thank you for your service.
posted by eirias at 11:08 AM on October 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have been using clear first aid tape to seal completely around the edges of my (not homemade) mask & it really makes me feel much more secure. Zero gaps.

They also have tape for sensitive skin that is easy to remove but I use the regular clear tape & it does not come off until you want it to.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

If possible, leave the doors open. Outside air is way more dynamic than any ventilation system and will help a lot. Make sure your mask fits well.
posted by theora55 at 11:16 AM on October 28, 2020

As opposed to (or in addition to a) face shield, I would go with safety glasses, the kind that have those 'blue blocker' glasses they sell, but clear. Less likely to trap air in the first place, and a smaller volume to trap. Personally, I'm with most in here who are skeptical about face shields being unsafe in any way, but for me the open sides don't inspire confidence. Shields are more for stuff coming at you, than stuff surrounding you (ie being indoors). From what I've seen (mostly in news footage), outdoor testing staff has been going with masks and shields, while covid ward staff have been using all 3, or just masks and goggles.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:20 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Most of my poll workers wore a mask, face shield and gloves. Those not wearing face shields were behind Plexiglass wearing masks. The door was also kept open.
posted by shoesietart at 11:27 AM on October 28, 2020

Agree with phunniemee; even in normal circumstances but especially if you are anxious, limiting water intake is only going to make you feel worse (physically and emotionally). Maybe get a water bottle that has a pop-in/pop-out straw, if you can keep it on or near your person.
posted by sm1tten at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2020

I work in a teaching hospital with health care students, and we are all required to wear mask+shield when unable to maintain the 6' spacing (masks are always required). I would conclude from this that they are unconcerned about hypothetical trapped aerosols and much more interested in blocking anything escaping the masks, which do not have perfect seals. I'll be working the polls and wearing my regular glasses, a sealed mask, and a shield that wraps all the way to my temples but is otherwise open. I've been wearing the same getup for in-person absentee voting for the past week, and am thus far doing well, for whatever that's worth. If I had sealed prescription goggles, I'd put a "droplet" mask over mine and forego the shield.

Definitely don't make yourself sick skipping hydration, but xylitol gum (Pur is tasty and widely available in my experience) does help with the feeling of dryness when you can't sip as freely as you might otherwise.
posted by teremala at 11:45 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m going to be an election judge this year and planning on wearing a face shield. I have some on hand (although I haven’t been in a situation like this where I thought it would be a very good idea) and it’s on the list of things the election commission is providing, as well. I’m planning to use a non-medical mask but I have a very well-fitting comfortable one with 2 thick layers and i will put a filter in it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:47 AM on October 28, 2020

I'm an election judge in Minneapolis, and we had our state primary in August. Judges were mandated to wear masks, and elections provided cloth ones and KN95s. Most judges seemed to wear their own cloth masks or a disposable pleated mask. Not a single one of our judges reported getting COVID from serving on Election Day, that's over 120 sites and with over 12 staff members at each one. During the primary, there wasn't much risk from voters since the process moved along quickly and few voters were in the room more than five minutes. Our bigger risk was our fellow judges.

I wore an N95 and took frequent drink/snack breaks outside far away from people and the bathroom breaks that go with that. I made sure to sanitize my hands before taking my mask down for a snack or drink. We were well staffed enough to let people take frequent little breaks. I ate my lunch and dinner outside, far away from others. Our election day weather looks like it might be chilly, so I may be eating my meals in my car. I'll still take outside mask breaks. I wear glasses and can control fogging OK with this mask, so maybe it would be OK with the face shield, but it didn't feel necessary with our set up since we did our best to keep people six feet apart.

Keep the mask on, snack outside/in your car, wash your hands, and take breaks if you can. If the face shield helps you feel like you did everything you could, that's a big plus and I would do it just for that reason.

Good luck on Tuesday. I'll be out there too.
posted by advicepig at 12:16 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would wear a mask and a shield. I would have many masks that I would change through out the day.
I would use hand sanitizer often.
I would change and shower when I got home.
Drink all you want and on bathroom breaks just sanitize and take that opportunity to change your mask out.

Doing all these things would make me feel pretty confident I was being very safe.
posted by beccaj at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2020

If it helps, I worked the polls in April and August and I did not get sick, nor was there any news of illness being traced to a local polling place. (Which is not to say it didn't happen, just that I have no evidence it happened.)

Only thing I have to add to the advice above is that I bring a plastic bag to put my used masks in, so they don't accidentally contaminate clean masks inside my backpack.
posted by humbug at 4:30 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wearing both a mask *and* some kind of eye protection (either a face shield or fitted safety glasses) is best practice and this nurse says yes wear both.

Don't bother with gloves. Sanitizing your hands frequently will accomplish the same thing with a much lower risk of cross-contamination.

Please don't just push the mask aside so you can use a straw to drink. Whatever protection the mask might be affording you is negated by putting things in your mouth while the used mask is still right there. Pretend the outside of the mask is covered in poop instead of potentially-infectious virus; do you want to eat when there's poop an inch from your mouth? Of course not.

Practice the routine of sanitizing your hands, taking your mask off without touching the outside (use the ear loops), sanitizing your hands again, eating and/or drinking, sanitizing your hands, replacing the mask with as little contact with the outside as possible (hold the ear loops, hook the inside bottom edge under your chin to stabilize, put the ear loops around your ears, and use your non-dominant hand to pinch the wire across your nose to adjust for fit), and sanitizing your hands. Do it over and over again until the order of operations becomes second nature.

Thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart for volunteering as an election worker.
posted by jesourie at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Thank you!

If you’re okay with it I’d wear both for the optics—sends the message that you care about not spreading, not just that you care about not catching.
posted by kapers at 6:14 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fuck it. Mask & face shield. Safety first (for others and oneself)

Or-- you could opt for well-fitting safety goggles and a mask, which would prob be fractionally safer, but less comfortable
posted by cotesdurhone at 11:31 AM on October 29, 2020

I find a little spray bottle with rubbing alcohol works better than hand sanitizer

Also: studies have been done that strong mouthwash such as Listerine will kill the virus within the mouth within 30 seconds. So if you're being really cautious, you could have a mouthwash bottle and gargle during breaks

Thanks for volunteering with the Elections in the precarious climate
posted by cotesdurhone at 11:33 AM on October 29, 2020

The Listerine FAQ says that it has not been tested against any strains of the coronavirus, so this may be people just basing their information on its alcohol content.
posted by jessamyn at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was afraid of long lines, short staff, and limited breaks. But there has been almost no lines, lots of staff, and lots of opportunities for breaks outside. Like right now. Feeling pretty good about this. Thanks to all.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 12:00 PM on November 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

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