Fact or Myth: Facial Hair and COVID-19
BY KATIE CAVENDER
The “quarantine beard” is a trend popping up on social media as people commit to grow their beards until they go back to work. At the same time, health care workers are pulling out razors to shave beards they’ve had for decades, which raises the question: Is facial hair safe during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic?
Why are health care workers encouraged to shave?
N95 masks are custom fitted to health care workers’ faces, and they require a seal against the wearer’s face to work properly. When a health care worker has a beard or even large sideburns, it can compromise the N95 mask’s effectiveness.
As you probably know, some people have had the same facial hairstyle for years. This makes a morning shave feel much more significant than their everyday routine. For others, a beard holds religious significance and symbolizes tightly held beliefs.* Because of this, Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) started #ShaveAgainstCOVID. It’s a movement of solidarity among our bearded colleagues as they make a personal decision that will better help us protect our community.
What about the general public?
There is no evidence that facial hair increases your risk for a COVID-19 infection. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone wear a cloth face covering when in areas that make social distancing difficult (like at the grocery store or pharmacy). Cloth face coverings and surgical masks do not require a seal to work, so beards and other facial hair should not impact their effectiveness as long as the face covering is worn properly.
The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, which originate from a person’s respiratory system. Those droplets can be found in places like commonly touched surfaces, people’s hands or even in the air. If a respiratory droplet from a person who carries coronavirus lands on your facial hair, it could potentially get in your mouth or nose and make you sick. That means, if you choose to keep your whiskers, make sure to practice good hygiene. Whether you have a beard or not, it’s best to avoid touching your face.
In the end, the decision to shave is a personal one. If you feel your facial hair is hard to maintain or that it tempts you to touch your face, shaving may be the best option. However, if your facial hair holds religious significance or you just can’t imagine living without a handlebar mustache, make sure to be safe and practice good hygiene.
*LVHN respects all our colleagues’ religious beliefs. If a colleague chooses not to shave for religious reasons, we have made accommodations to ensure both the colleague and patients are safe.