A new Prior Lake-based company says it has a solution for consumers who want to reduce the spread of the coronavirus but are weary of cloth face masks.

Affordable FaceShields, created by Prior Lake resident and consultant Mike Stout, began producing and selling lightweight plastic face shields on May 22. 

The two-piece barrier is the combination of glasses-like frames and a plastic sheet, similar to the face shields worn by frontline health care workers as personal protective equipment. 

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for health care providers, face shields are recommended for use along with a medical face mask and should be cleaned with a chlorine-based solution after every use.

The CDC hasn't issued any guidance on face shields use for the public. But Stout said a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this month encouraged and convinced him of their effectiveness.

Three doctors from the University of Iowa and Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System found face masks reduced immediate viral exposure by 92% between people 6 feet apart in a simulation with the influenza virus.

The study didn't look at coronavirus in particular, but the mask still has "a lot of things going for it from a practical perspective," Stout said. "Convenience, quality of interactions and the cost."

Stout said he met over 800 orders from across the country in the first week alone. He said he'd like to sell 100,000 shields at $7.50 apiece by the end of the year.

Early customers said they're happy to help Stout meet that goal. 

"It's a godsend," Prior Lake resident Dale Swanson said. "It's really nice."

Perhaps the main selling point for Swanson and other customers was how easily they forget they're wearing the masks. Swanson said the mask is less obtrusive than a cloth mask — so much so he sometimes drives around without realizing it's on.

"I have a bit of a problem with a face mask because it smells and it's hot," Swanson said. "So this is — truly — a breath of fresh air."

Swanson, who said he's been following health officials recommendations about reducing public outings, increasing hand-washing and wearing a face covering, didn't realize how much he was touching his face until he began wearing a face shield. 

Swanson said he now plans to buy a shield for a friend who recently completed chemotherapy. 

For Rev. Shawn Morrison, the founder and executive director of clothing and hunger charity Good in the 'Hood, the shields have the added benefit of revealing the wearer's smile.

"It's been wonderful for us because it's helped our volunteers to connect with one another and connect with the guests we serve," Morrison said. "We can maintain that personal touch."

Morrison purchased 250 face shields recently. He said after distributing the shields to Good in the 'Hood staff and volunteers, he's down to 50 shields. 

"When I get to my last 10 or 20, I'll probably reorder them," Morrison said. "It's definitely something I wand to reorder down the road."

Morrison said the face shields have added extra comfort and confidence at a time where the charity is in overdrive. Morrison said the nonprofit recently opened two new food shelves and has plans to open five more in the coming weeks in order to keep up with increased need during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Morrison said he's shared the face shields with the greater Twin Cities nonprofit and charity community.

Stout said that alleviating some widespread stress is what he really wanted when he launched his company.

"It really is exciting to launch a business that will benefit so many," Stout wrote in an email. "Especially during a time as uncertain as now."