SAUSALITO, Calif. - Face masks, in all their varieties, have become common.
Face shields may be next.
A growing number of wearers - and doctors- say shields are not only more protective but easier to wear and keep clean.
"They're a lot more comfortable than masks, and they also keep you from inadvertently touching your face," said Reason Bradley, leader of a shield-making coalition on the Sausalito waterfront in Marin County.
Organized on Facebook as the Marinship Emergency Medical Manufacturing Group, several businesses have pivoted from their usual endeavors to produce face shields since the start of the pandemic.
With laser cutters humming, they have crafted more than 13,000 face shields and donated them across the Bay Area and the nation.
The first shipments went to hospitals and medical facilities, and as their PPE shortages eased, shields went to police and fire departments, delivery drivers and grocery employees, even farmworkers and more recently, protesters.
"There are even little babies, newborn babies, and they put face shields on them," said Bradley, amazed at how the use of shields has exploded due to COVID19.
The manufacturing group has expanded its designs and added child-size shields, plus shields that attach to eyeglasses.
Around the world, children are wearing face shields to attend school and many U.S. schools may be next.
Locally, Sausalito and Marin City expect to be one of the first local districts to adopt shields for staff and students.
"It's almost an impossibility to get the kids to wear the masks properly or keep them on for any length of time," said Itoco Garcia, Superintendent of the Sausalito - Marin City School District.
For several weeks, the district has offered limited on-site learning- with social distance and sanitizing precautions.
Students age 8 and older wear masks, but Garcia finds the clear shields superior because expression makes for better learning.
"What happens with your mouth, your cheeks and the rest of your face is actually really important in conveying information, and emotion, and building relationships," said Garcia.
He is eager to see if students fidget less with shields and even forget they have them on.
"I wear one, and I can breathe fresh air and it's not hot," said Garcia, " and putting on this one extra layer to go to school won't be too much to ask."
Many doctors tout the benefits of shields and expect them to catch on with the public.
"You can wash it with soap and water or spray with disinfectant and use it indefinitely," said Dr. Jake Scott, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at Stanford University's Medical School.
"It's a very good and effective substitute for a mask and maybe even better."
Scott notes neither the CDC or WHO recommend shields for routine use, but because the pandemic is new, the data is thin.
"At this point, we don't have time to gather that research so we have to go with what makes sense," said Scott.
And shields make sense, he says, because impermeable plastic protects not only the nose and mouth but eyes from infectious droplets.
"These particles can't penetrate through a face shield like they can with various masks so I think they can be more effective."
Whether worn alone, or in tandem with a mask, Scott believes shields are underutilized.
But those spearheading the Marinship makers need no convincing.
"I love running in it, you can ride your bike in it, take walks in it," said Janelle Kellman, Sausalito Planning Commission and volunteer with the coalition.
"There's a movement now for these community shields, it's friendlier to see people's faces, their smiles are more welcoming and you get a real feeling of safety."
As public health orders ease and people circulate more freely, the transition or addition of shields may accelerate.
"Unfortunately as the infection numbers continue to rise, we'll have to figure out a solution and that's where the face shield will become more accepted," predicted Bradley.