After much debate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week decided to not update its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks.
Instead, the organization is continuing to endorse that people across the country simply wear any type of mask when in public settings.
“Any mask is better than no mask and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the White House COVID-19 response team briefing Wednesday.
However, these masks remain in high demand as the Omicron variant spreads across the greater Kansas City metro.
But what are N95 and KN95 masks? And why do many health experts think they are more beneficial than cloth masks?
Below the Post answers some questions you may have about these types of masks.
What are KN95 and N95 masks?
Both N95 and KN95 masks are medical-grade respirator-style masks that can filter up to 95% of particles in the air and are made to create an airtight seal around the user’s face.
You’re able to buy both kinds of masks at stores or online, but the difference is in where they are manufactured.
N95 masks are made in the U.S. KN95 masks are made in China, according to the CDC. That means, there is less regulatory oversight over KN95 mask manufacturing.
In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of KN95 masks due to a shortage of N95 masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The emergency authorization was later retracted in June 2021 for health care personnel after a stabilization in the supply chain, but the masks are still recommended to everyday civilians as long as they meet NIOSH’s standards.
What are the benefits of N95 and KN95 masks?
In addition to blocking up to 95% of small particles, these masks also help to neutralize germs and viruses on the surface to prevent potential exposure into your airstream and lungs, according to the CDC.
As long as the KN95 or N95 is being worn properly, both surgical and cloth masks provide significantly less filtration in comparison.
The KN95 and N95 masks are more effective because of their construction as well as design. Both are made up of two outer layers of non-woven material that filter particles measuring 0.5 microns in diameter, which is good enough to catch most airborne particles that can cause harm to people.
The multilayered material, coupled with a less than 8% leakage rate when appropriately fit, makes the masks more durable against the highly contagious Omicron and other variants.
What are the signs your mask is counterfeit?
There are some tell-tale signs that N95 and KN95s are fake, thus making them not recommended for us.
For N95 masks (which, again, are manufactured and certified in the U.S.), check the label.
The packaging or respirator mask itself should be labeled with the NIOSH letters.
Each N95 mask also has its own approval number you can verify on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List website.
Also look at the design of an N95. The mask should have a strap that goes around the back of your head. This means any that have ear loops are not in fact true N95s.
The CDC also has a list of things to consider when trying to purchase an KN95 mask.
Since KN95 masks are made overseas, they are not evaluated by NIOSH and therefore should not have “NIOSH certified” on their packaging. If they do, the masks are counterfeit.
A key thing to look for with KN95 masks is that they are stamped with the code GB2626-2019. That means they were constructed according to China’s respirator standards.
Additionally, for both types of masks, the CDC recommends if you are buying online or from a third-party marketplace, to check reviews and the transaction history of the seller.
“If a listing claims to be ‘legitimate’ and ‘genuine,’ it likely is not,” CDC officials say.
Where can I buy the masks?
- KN95 Face Mask 50 PCS
- FANGTIAN N95 Respirator NIOSH Certified, pack of 20
- MedicPro N95 Mask NIOSH Approved, Individually Wrapped, pack of 50
N95 Medical Supplies