Despite the vaccine being effectively distributed worldwide, people are still using personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat the spread of COVID-19. Although there are several different options for wearing a mask, N95 respirators have been extremely popular in the United States due to the filtering process. They offer more protection than face shields, cloth masks, and surgical masks.
N95s are regulated by government bodies, ensuring high quality and maximum protection. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved N95 masks became scarce during the pandemic, forcing people to look for other types of masks.
Due to shortages of N95 coverings, KN95 face masks became very popular. These masks are designed similarly to N95s but are manufactured in China. During the pandemic, the US imported KN95s to help meet the soaring demand for protective face coverings. While KN95s are the Chinese standard, they differ somewhat from N95s and are not permanently sanctioned by the FDA or CDC. Before relying fully on an imported KN95 mask, there are some important factors to consider.
What Are KN95 Masks?
KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent to the FDA-approved N95s that are produced in the United States. The 95 figure stands for the mask’s 95 percent bacterial filter performance. KN95s are reported to filter 0.3 microns, making them effective in reducing the spread of airborne viruses like COVID.
KN95 masks are generally more effective at filtration than regular surgical coverings (up to level 3.) However, a KN95 isn’t considered a filtering facepiece respirator, meaning it doesn’t adhere to the pre-established FDA standards for a respirator mask. Therefore, these masks don’t appear on regular FDA and CDC documentation.
During the pandemic, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for PPE. KN95 masks received emergency approval for use in the US.
The Difference Between N95 and KN95 Masks
N95 and KN95 masks are similar. They are both made from the same type of materials (usually a polypropylene plastic polymer) and are designed for the same basic fit. However, there are some important differences to consider.
The primary difference between the masks is how and where they’re certified. N95 standards are set in the US, while China regulates the production of KN95 products.
Chinese regulatory bodies require KN95 manufacturers to perform fit tests on real people, demonstrating ≤ 8% leakage. This isn’t necessary for N95 makers.
N95 manufacturers are held to higher standards regarding pressure drop for inhalation and exhalation. This makes them more comfortable to breathe through. However, KN95s are still very breathable, and the difference in breathability may not be noticeable unless you have underlying respiratory difficulties.
Another key difference between KN95 and N95 masks is the fit. KN95s are equipped with ear loops rather than the elastic headbands found on N95s. This means that N95s may have a tighter fit over the face.
What Do KN95s Protect Against?
KN95 masks are designed to filter out germs and bacteria spread by droplets. These droplets are generally spread by coughing, sneezing, and even talking. A KN95 should be fitted as securely as possible with careful placement over the nose and mouth. The ear loops help minimize gaps and leakages.
To use a KN95 effectively, you should:
- Wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer before touching your mask or taking it on or off.
- Ensure that the mask covers your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Dispose of your mask after use (unless it must be re-used in an emergency or PPE shortage).
- When it’s not in use, store your mask in a sanitized plastic bag.
Although case rates are lowering and the vaccine rollout allows for global restrictions to be eased, the CDC still encourages people to use face masks to keep transmission low. This is even more important if there are COVID cases reported in your area.
In addition to social distancing and other preventative measures, a KN95 or other type of mask should be worn in the following circumstances:
- Traveling domestically via bus, train, plane, or other forms of public transport.
- Traveling internationally through airports and other travel hubs.
- If someone in your home or living close to you is ill, displays COVID symptoms, or has tested positive for COVID.
- Areas where there are mask mandates.
- When shopping in supermarkets or retail stores.
- When spending time in close proximity to others, particularly those most vulnerable to the virus (e.g., the elderly or those with underlying health conditions).
The main reason for so many KN95 masks entering the US marketplace was the shortages of N95 respirators in the early stages of the pandemic. While these products are supposed to adhere to similar standards to N95 masks, research into the quality of the masks found some distressing results. According to the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI), 60 to 70 percent of imported KN95 masks did not match the US standards for effectiveness.
Although these masks are sold under the premise that they filter out 95 percent of aerosol particulates, the ECRI found that this isn’t the case. While some masks lived up to these standards, tests on 200 masks from 15 different manufacturers showed that up to 70 percent do not.
As hundreds of thousands of KN95s were bought by US hospitals during the pandemic, this finding puts healthcare workers at the highest risk. These findings don’t render KN95 masks useless, but they demonstrate that they may not be as effective as other respirators in reducing the spread of COVID-19. They are still useful for medical professionals carrying out specific procedures, but unless tested, they shouldn’t be worn in the presence of someone suspected of having COVID.
With an estimated 3,500 manufacturers of KN95 masks in China, it is difficult to know exactly what products are most reliable. There have also been many counterfeit KN95, and N95 masks found on the market, increasing risk further. When purchasing KN95 masks for personal or commercial use, it’s important to source them from a reliable vendor or have them tested before use.
What You Should Look For in a KN95 Mask
To minimize the risk of buying a mask of substandard quality, you should know what to look for. Although the FDA authorizes the use of KN95 masks, this is due to emergency circumstances, so they are not officially regulated FDA PPE. This means that the FDA logo should not appear on the mask or the packaging. The presence of an FDA logo suggests it may be counterfeit.
The mask should come in sealed packaging. Once you open the package, check for a “CE” emblem, which indicates that it meets European standards. The mask should have a secure fit with tight ear loops.
To verify the product is genuine, you can search for it on the FDA establishment registration and device listing database. You’ll need the owner or operator number for validation.
How to Source a Quality KN95 Mask
Depending on your location, KN95 masks may or may not be easy to find. While they could be available in your local grocery store, it is generally cheaper and safer to buy from a reputable supplier, like ICU Production, Inc.
We supply a range of quality PPE that’s fully tested to meet the approved standards of the FDA and CDC. In addition to KN95, N95, and 3-ply face masks, we provide other first-rate equipment, including face shields, medical gloves, gowns, hand sanitizers, and children’s PPE. Visit our website or contact us today to ensure you remain fully stocked with PPE.