In early July, the World Health Organization acknowledged that there was “emerging evidence” that COVID-19 could be transmitted through airborne particles, following the release of an open letter signed by 239 scientists which implored the agency to address the subject. Assuming this evidence is accurate, it would suggest that it’s possible for viral droplets floating in the air to enter your body through the eyes. Now, many are left wondering if face masks are enough to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus or if you should be wearing goggles or eye shields as well.
The debate was reignited a few weeks later after Dr. Anthony Fauci seemingly encouraged the wearing of goggles or eye shields in a conversation with ABC News.
When asked by ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton if we were going to get to a point where eye protection is recommended, Fauci responded, “It might, if you really want perfect protection of the mucosal surfaces.”
“You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye,” the infectious disease expert continued. “Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces. So if you have goggles or an eye shield you should use it.” Though, Fauci conceded that while goggles or face shields are “not universally recommended” at this time, anyone who feels safer wearing them is welcome to do so.
Fauci’s comments were met with a mixed reception from medical experts.
Dr. Joel S. Schuman, the director of the NYU Langone Eye Center, told Health.com that it’s “unlikely” to get COVID-19 through your eyes, but he added that eye protection does unequivocally reduce your risk.
“Based on other respiratory infections, we believe that goggles may reduce this risk by up to 80-90%,” added Dr. Geoffrey Leung, ambulatory medical director for California’s Riverside University Health System. Leung also admitted that it’s unlikely to become infected through the eyes—when properly social distancing—but that “there is a small but significant risk” when closely interacting with someone who isn’t wearing a mask or face cover.
Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, echoed these thoughts in an interview with CNN. “Yes, it’s in the air. Can it land on the eye? Of course,” Steinemann said while emphasizing that contracting the virus through your eyes is less likely than getting or inhaling it through your nose or mouth.
The overall concession seems to be that goggles or eye shields can mitigate a small risk of catching COVID-19 through the eyes. But those who are not in high-risk situations or who are already wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing probably don’t need to wear them. It also bears keeping in mind that catching the virus through your eyes is much more likely by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, according to the CDC, so it’s still important to stay vigilant on hand washing and sanitizing.
Read more on coronavirus face coverings:
- Yes, you should STILL be wearing a face mask during the pandemic
- Should you be wearing a face mask AND a face shield during the pandemic?
- Americans might not like wearing face masks, but the British disdain it even more
- No, wearing a face mask during the pandemic will not weaken your immune system
- How face masks are affecting the deaf and hard of hearing community
- What’s the difference between an N95, an N99, and a R95 face mask?
- Will face masks become a regular feature of U.S. society after the pandemic?