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COVID-19 and plexiglass: How effective are the barriers?

Des Moines Public Schools Admin Support Coordinator Sarah Holland installs a plexiglass shield in the office at Oak Park Elementary School, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Des Moines Public Schools Admin Support Coordinator Sarah Holland installs a plexiglass shield in the office at Oak Park Elementary School, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

You’ve no doubt seen the plexiglass dividers being used to protect people in different public settings.

The were even installed on the stage at the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate to shield the participants from each other.

But are they effective?

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommend the use of plexiglass and other barriers in work environments to reduce direct spread of potentially infectious droplets between people, especially in manufacturing, retail or food service settings where physical distance might not be consistent.

Even though these recommendations are in place, there is surprisingly little science that supports their use or that gives clear guidance on the best design for them.

Intuitively, a barrier should be effective at stopping droplets that are expelled when a person talks, coughs or sneezes, and because they’ll become covered in those droplets, they should be regularly cleaned.