Mask manufacturers are constantly looking to create and market better face coverings for people to use over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. And many consumers are constantly looking for masks that work more effectively.
KN95 masks have gotten attention because of this, and because the masks sound similar to N95, the gold standard of masks used in health care settings.
But are they as similar as they sound?
What’s the difference between KN95 masks and N95 masks?
Both KN95 masks and N95 masks are designed to filter 95% of particles entering the mask. The main difference is that N95s meet the standards for approval in American health care settings and KN95s do not.
But that difference shouldn’t matter to the average person.
WHAT WE FOUND
What makes N95s so highly sought after is that their quality is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to meet their standards for use in health care and even surgical settings. This is because they filter at least 95% of airborne particles, among other qualities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
KN95 masks are ultimately designed to do the same thing. The major difference is that these do not meet the NIOSH standards for approval in the same settings. They do meet China’s standards for masks in the same settings, and according to the CDC they are one of several types of respirator masks that are approved for use in health care in other countries, but not the United States.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t even have value in the health care setting. The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use for several KN95 masks (listed in Appendix A) near the beginning of the pandemic.
And even as ECRI warned health care providers in September its research found that most KN95 masks did not meet minimum standards for effectiveness, their researchers said, “KN95s can be used in lieu of surgical or procedure masks for activities that involve limited contact with bodily fluids (because KN95s are not intended for fluid repellency), and they may provide superior respiratory protection.” However, they added health care providers should “use KN95s or other non-NIOSH-certified masks only as a last resort when treating known or suspected COVID-19 patients.”
Some health care providers may have needed (or still need) to rely on a last resort because of the limited supply of personal protective equipment, including masks, available. That’s a reason why many officials have urged the public to leave N95 masks for health care workers.
Health care workers need a filtered mask because of their close contact with a number of sick patients for long periods of time. Filtered masks like N95 help reduce the likelihood they’ll become unavailable to illness or even spread an illness, such as COVID-19, from one patient to another.
The general public, on the other hand, has been urged to wear masks to reduce the likelihood they’ll spread the virus to other people. A filter is less necessary for a mask that is supposed to stop particles from going out rather than coming in.
And generally, KN95 masks are seen as acceptable replacements for surgical or cloth masks in settings that the general public may encounter. For example, the Vermont Agency of Education specifically clarified that KN95s could be used in place of cloth masks as general wear and even in place of surgical masks in health care settings where such masks would be acceptable.
The main differences between N95 masks and KN95 masks matter in clinical settings, where the standards for mask effectiveness are stringent. In those settings, N95 masks are better and NIOSH-approved.
However, the differences between the two are unlikely to make a major difference to daily use by most people.
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