COVID-19: Plastic shields are ineffective or even counterproductive, says Ontario expert

At first, some businesses used shower curtains or a temporary plastic tarp to separate customers from employees.

Twenty months after the pandemic began, it became practically impossible to enter a restaurant, retail store, medical office, or other business without seeing the protective plastic barriers separating people.

Now, one of Ontario’s top advisors to the province’s pandemic response guidance says plastic dividers can not only be ineffective, but could be counterproductive for public safety.

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Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-10 Scientific Advisory Panel, and professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto at St. “Science is evolving,” says Michael.

Jüni told Global News in an interview on Thursday that the use of barriers in public spaces could compromise efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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“Where you see (them) in schools or restaurants, glass can obstruct ventilation and give people a sense of security,” says Jüni.

Views shared by other experts.

“The fundamental problem with the barrier is that it doesn’t provide much protection (in some cases) …

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“Here’s the right advice: I’m glad Dr Jüni and others are saying it. I think it’s been known for a long time that barriers can be a problem,” says Siegel.

Neither Siegel nor Jüni opposes the use of barriers in face-to-face customer service environments.

However, they say that widespread use of permanent plastic barriers in public places can prevent ventilation systems designed to promote better airflow.

“Having glass barriers is perfectly fine: if you have a checkout counter at a coffee shop. The problem is where (is) where you see (it) in a school or restaurant: there the glass can obstruct ventilation and give people a false sense of security,” says Jüni.

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“Only use plexiglass in cases where it really makes sense.”

While barriers can also be used to limit the number of individuals occupying a certain space at a time, too many barriers implemented incorrectly can cause trouble, says Siegel.

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“We’re starting to have some data, and the data shows that… in some cases, barriers can do more harm than good,” said Siegel.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business told Global News that more clarity is needed on the roadblock issue.

“Since the time of the first wave, industry guidelines have recommended glass barriers. Even now reopening regulations prescribe different uses depending on the presence of physical barriers,” said Ryan Mallough, CFIB Senior Director of Provincial Affairs said.

“We understand if thinking about this has changed; however, it should be clearly explained and business owners should be compensated for their investment,” Mallough said in a statement.

But Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr Kieran Moore, said on Thursday barriers remain valid in fighting COVID-19.

“Physical barriers such as plexiglass have a role in the hierarchy of control that reduces the risk of transmission.”

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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