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COVID-19 Plastic Barriers: Do They Really Work?

COVID-19 Plastic Barriers: Do They Really Work?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, offices, restaurants, and even public transportation had to adapt in order to keep people safe. One of the most common methods that people use is to put up COVID-19 plastic barriers.

However, with more than a year since the start of the pandemic, numerous studies have found that these barriers might pose more harm than good. Read on to learn more.

What’s the Reason for Using COVID-19 Plastic Barriers?

When the pandemic started, safety precautions had to be put in place so that the spread of disease can be stopped. The usual measures included wearing masks and face shields, using hand sanitizers or alcohol, and social distancing.

Another common safety measure that was implemented was putting up plastic barriers. In theory, these barriers protect against COVID-19 because it blocks the flow of air. And since the virus is airborne, this means that blocking the flow of air is the best way to prevent it from spreading.

However, the reality is that these barriers might not be as effective as we thought. In some cases, they could even be more dangerous, according to scientists.

Why Are COVID-19 Plastic Barriers Ineffective?

Based on what we now know about the virus, these COVID-19 plastic barriers might not be the best way to protect people. In one study, researchers found that barriers gave mixed results in terms of protection.

The researchers studied different types of barriers that were in use by customer-facing industries. These included nail salons, convenience stores, etc. The results showed that barriers did reduce the particles from customers to workers.

However, the researchers also found that these barriers also “trapped” the virus. For example, if a worker was sick, and they cough or sneeze, they can contaminate the air behind the barrier. Since the barrier blocks the flow of air, it can potentially infect other workers1.

Another study, which was done on classroom barriers found that they were not enough to protect students and faculty. In fact, they were associated with a higher risk of infection if these barriers were the only safety measures implemented2.

COVID-19 Plastic Barriers Don’t Allow Air To Flow

The main problem with these COVID-19 barriers is mostly the fact that they impede airflow. Since COVID-19 is airborne, it can linger in the air for an extended period of time.

However, if there is sufficient airflow inside an office, then the virus droplets start to dissipate and become less concentrated. This is the reason why if you’re outdoors, there’s an extremely low risk of being infected by COVID-19.

In contrast, the plastic barriers found inside offices, retail stores, and public transportation tend to create “dead zones” where air can’t flow3. This can cause the virus to accumulate in these areas, and become a possible source of infection once a person inhales the contaminated air.

Another case wherein barriers proved to be detrimental was during a tuberculosis outbreak in an Australian office. Scientists found that cubicle dividers prevented contaminated air from dissipating. This, in turn, contributed to the spread of the virus4. Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterial pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

What Can People Do To Protect Themselves?

COVID-19 plastic barriers are not enough to protect people from infection. So it’s important to know what other options you have in terms of protecting yourself against infection.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask whenever you’re around other people, and when you go outside.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Always wash your hands.
  • As much as possible, avoid going out.
  • If you work in an office, always wear your mask, and avoid being in close proximity to others.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Stay updated on the latest news and developments on the COVID-19 pandemic here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


1 Laboratory Study of Physical Barrier Efficiency for Worker Protection against SARS-CoV-2 while Standing or Sitting, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.26.21261146v1.full.pdf, Accessed August 24, 2021

2 Household COVID-19 risk and in-person schooling | Science, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6546/1092, Accessed August 24, 2021

3 Weekly SARS-CoV-2 screening of asymptomatic students and staff to guide and evaluate strategies for safer in-person learning, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.03.20.21253976v1.full.pdf, Accessed August 24, 2021

4 Transmission of tuberculosis infection in a commercial office | The Medical Journal of Australia, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2014/200/3/transmission-tuberculosis-infection-commercial-office, Accessed August 24, 2021

5 Role of Screens and Barriers in Mitigating COVID-19 transmission, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1007489/S1321_EMG_Role_of_Screens_and_Barriers_in_Mitigating_COVID-19_transmission.pdf, Accessed August 24, 2021

6 Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 Incidence in Elementary Schools — Georgia, November 16–December 11, 2020 | MMWR, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7021e1.htm, Accessed August 24, 2021

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated May 04
Medically reviewed by Michael Henry Wanat