A study published in June and led by researchers from Johns Hopkins, for example, showed that desk screens in classrooms were associated with an increased risk of coronavirus infection. In a Massachusetts school district, researchers found that plexiglass dividers with side walls in the main office were impeding air flow. A study looking at schools in Georgia found that desk barriers had little effect on the spread of the coronavirus compared with ventilation improvements and masking.
Before the pandemic, a study published in 2014 found that office cubicle dividers were among the factors that may have contributed to disease transmission during a tuberculosis outbreak in Australia.
British researchers have conducted modeling studies simulating what happens when a person on one side of a barrier — like a customer in a store — exhales particles while speaking or coughing under various ventilation conditions. The screen is more effective when the person coughs, because the larger particles have greater momentum and hit the barrier. But when a person speaks, the screen doesn’t trap the exhaled particles — which just float around it. While the store clerk may avoid an immediate and direct hit, the particles are still in the room, posing a risk to the clerk and others who may inhale the contaminated air.