Face shields and goggles for COVID – Can virus be transmitted via eyes?

By lee cleveland - July 17, 2022

Coronavirus is raging again in some parts of the U.S.

Los Angeles County on Thursday raised the COVID-19 threat level to a “high” level, making the return of universal indoor masking in the region likely.

If the county remains at the high community level for two consecutive weeks, through July 28, the masking mandate would return the following day, “to help slow the rate of transmission and protect those most vulnerable,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

COVID is not yet over.

To reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, scientists worldwide have strongly encouraged people to social distance, practice good hand hygiene, and wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth.

However, given we might be in for a long winter with extremely high rates of infections, will those precautions, even with mass vaccinations, be enough when we’re in public?

Should we also incorporate goggles and/or a face shield?

Although COVID is far more likely to be transmitted and contracted through the nose and mouth from person-to-person contact, it’s not uncommon to see medical professionals donning face shields, goggles, and a traditional mask in unison for extra protection.



Why?

The eyes may also serve as a gateway to infection for COVID.

“If you think about the entire mucus membrane of the nose, mouth, and eyes, they are all connected. But if something got into your eyes it could get into the rest of your respiratory system,” Dr. Sonal Tuli, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told Newsy in November 2020.

Presumed modes of infection through the eyes

Touch

If someone touches an infected surface and subsequently rubs their eyes before washing their hands, it may put them at added risk for contracting the virus.

“I think that’s probably the most important to wear glasses (goggles) because you would have a little bit of a pause because you would hit the glasses and say ‘Oh wait, I’m not supposed to be touching my eyes,’” Dr. Tuli added.

“So absolutely that would be a great way for people to give themselves a little bit of a pause to prevent themselves from infecting themselves.”

Air droplets

Although such instances are believed to be quite rare, Coronavirus infection through the eyes via air droplets is believed to be not outside the realm of possibility.

Let’s not forget that some who have contracted COVID-19 insist they wore conventional masks and took strict precautions. Could they have gotten it through their eyes?

“It leaves me for a loss of words because I think it really speaks to how contagious this virus is, and we’ve taken all of the precautions we can possibly take,” said former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after everyone in her household tested positive for COVID in July 2020.

“We wear a mask, we’re very thoughtful about washing our hands, I have no idea when and where we were exposed,” she added.”

Very confusing

Conflicting studies support and reject the notion one can get infected through the eyes while other data argue why certain modes of transmission through the eyes are far more or less likely.

“I think I heard it best said this way: ‘One’s risk is a simple summary of time, space, people and place,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, via Mayo Clinic’s YouTube page.

“When you look at those four factors and consider all the variations and permutations of those, it’s very hard to say ‘going outside is risk-free.’ “

He added it’s not uncommon for accurate studies to be contradictory because they can be performed under entirely different sets of conditions.

Better to be safe than sorry

As research develops, we can all do our part to stay safe.

We know things will likely get worse before they get better, and protecting the eyes, in addition to following CDC’s more rudimentary safety guidelines, certainly couldn’t hurt; especially for those more vulnerable to the virus such as the elderly and individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Don’t be surprised to see more people wearing:

  • Goggles with a traditional mask
  • Goggles with a face shield
  • Face shields, goggles, and a traditional mask concurrently
Tags: Covid-19