Masks and Covid-19: answers to your main questions about N95s and KN95s


“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and visiting professor of politics and in health management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, CNN Newsroom recently reported.

Here’s what you need to know about masks like N95s, where to get them, and how to use them safely.

Why do experts now recommend N95s?

N95s are more widely available now than they were at the start of the pandemic, and public health experts in the United States also understand better that the primary driver of coronavirus infection is shared air, Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, told CNN last month.

Cloth masks – encouraged earlier in the pandemic – can filter out large droplets, while more efficient masks, such as N95s, can filter out both large droplets and potentially virus-laden smaller aerosols or particles by airborne if infected people are present, Bromage said.

A cloth face covering has 75% inward and outward leakage, which American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists defines as the “percentage of particles entering the mask” and the “percentage of particles exhaled by a source exiting the mask”, respectively.
Properly fitted, NIOSH-approved N95 respirators can filter up to 95% particles in the air.

Why the Omicron variant of the coronavirus infected many people so quickly is currently unknown, but it highlights the importance of wearing high-quality masks, Bromage said.

“If it takes less virus, or if it’s an infected person who emits more virus, then the role of a mask is that if we can reduce the amount you actually breathe, you get more time” before d to be potentially infected, he added.

What is the difference between N95 and KN95?

The difference between N95 and KN95 masks is where each is certified, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health. The United States tests, certifies and regulates the recommendations of N95 public health experts; in contrast, Chinese manufacturers test KN95s, but the country’s government does not have a regulatory body that validates them, said Aaron Collins, a professor emeritus at Mercer University’s School of Engineering and a mechanical engineer. with a background in aerosol science.
According to the CDC.

“If they’re made to standard and certified by the appropriate boards in their country, like NIOSH here, they’re all basically doing the same thing,” Bromage said. They “may meet the standards, but they’re not certified to meet them. And there are others who clearly don’t.”

KF94 masks are Korean-standard masks tested and regulated by Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, said Kelly Carothers, director of government affairs and sustainability at Project N95the national clearinghouse working to provide equitable access to personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing.
The CDC has people advised do not wear international respirators with exhalation valves, vents, or other openings, as these openings may emit unfiltered exhaled air in surrounding areas — which would be problematic if you get infected and exhale virus particles that could infect others, Wen told CNN this month.

The level of potential escape of the virus is low, however, she added. N95s with exhalation valves work just as well as cloth or surgical masks to protect others. A valved N95 isn’t recommended above non-valved N95s, but if the former is the only mask you can wear, do so, Wen suggested.

How to spot a fake N95, KN95 or KF94?

NIOSH has a list of approved N95 respirators. These masks must have the shape of a cup, a flat fold or a duckbill; two straps that go around your head; an adjustable wire nose bridge; and appropriate markings indicating NIOSH approval, CDC says.
The agency also has resources to identify counterfeit N95 masks, signs of which include a complete lack of mask markings or misspelled NIOSH. Resources also cover proper N95 placement, removal, and perform a respirator seal check.
The CDC has a list of signs a KN95 respirator may be counterfeit, which includes manufacturer claims that the KN95 respirator has been approved or certified by the CDC or NIOSH.

“If you’re going to get a KN95 mask, what we recommend is to make sure it has the (Chinese government’s) standard written on the side of the mask, similar to NIOSH standards” for US N95s, said Carothers.

These Chinese government standards on KN95s should say GB 2626-2019 or GB 2626-2006, which was the standard before GB 2626-2019, Carothers advised.

The Korean ministry has a online database of approved KF94 manufacturers, but the webpage is in Korean and may not be fully and accurately translated by your Internet browser’s translation plug-in. There are, however, some tips in English on these graphics to check brands when purchasing KF94 face masks, including packaging bearing the words “Quasi-drug product” and “KF94”.

Can children wear N95, KN95 or KF94?

N95s are medical masks designed for healthcare workers, so naturally there are no N95 masks designed or manufactured for children, as only adults would work in healthcare facilities.

However, taller children in elementary through middle school and up could potentially wear smaller size N95s intended for adults, Linsey Marr, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, told CNN this month.

“If you see an N95 as being marketed for kids, that should raise a red flag,” Marr said. “There will be KN95s and KF94s that are designed and marketed for children. With these, it’s the same issue that we discussed for adults, which is making sure you get them right. a reliable and reputable source.

Pictured is a KN95 mask for children in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, on January 13.

“…Certainly, for children, a KN95 or KF94 will on average offer better protection than a surgical mask or a cloth mask,” Marr added.

If you have trouble adjusting a KN95, KF94, or N95 to your child’s face, no matter how many brands you’ve tried, you can attach the ear loops or use toggles or cord lock adjusters to make sure the mask is snug enough, Marr suggested. the The CDC knot and fold method could also work.

Where can I get N95, KN95 or KF94?

Specially labeled “surgical” N95s “should be reserved for healthcare personnel,” the CDC says, but other N95s can be found at some home improvement stores, retailers, and pharmacies.

N95 masks made by 3M – one of the world’s leading manufacturers of N95 masks and the largest producer of masks in the United States – are available at all major retailers, including Home Depot, Target, Lowes, Menards and the store. Amazon’s 3M, 3M spokeswoman Jennifer Ehrlich told CNN this month.

Amazon said it prohibits sellers from claiming their KN95 masks are “FDA approved” because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve KN95 masks.

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“If you go to Amazon, just make sure you’re buying from the manufacturer’s direct store (N95), like their official store” on Amazon, Collins said.

For children and adults alike, the N95 project is a reliable source from which you can get N95s, KN95s and KF94s, Marr said.
As consumer demand for these masks has grown, there have been reports of price gouging online. Some public health services, such as those of Maryland and Milwaukeeoffer free N95 masks.

Is reusing N95s safe?

In medical settings, healthcare workers change masks frequently to avoid cross-contamination of a patient’s room with equipment that has been worn in a different space with an infectious person, Bromage explained. “When you take a single-use, medical-grade item and then put it out to the general public, we’re not concerned about you contaminating different environments. … It’s really about protecting yourself.”

So, yes, you can reuse your N95 mask.

Even after wearing an N95 in a crowded indoor environment – ​​like a subway or a grocery store – an N95’s material and filtration ability won’t “degrade unless you physically rub it or find it” , Marr said, adding that she wears her N95 masks for a week. “You would have to be in really polluted air…for several days before it lost its ability to filter particles.”

However, there are things to keep in mind to reuse an N95 safely: When putting it on, avoid touching the front outer part of the mask; instead, hold it by its edges or straps.

Also, if you learn you were near someone infected with the coronavirus while wearing an N95, you should discard that mask so you don’t risk coming into contact with the virus, Bromage advised. Unknowingly being exposed to infected people while wearing an N95 is possible, so distancing as much as possible can help reduce risk.

If the mask becomes damp, visibly dirty, bent, creased, difficult to breathe, or otherwise damaged — including by makeup — you should replace it to avoid wearing a less effective mask, Marr and Bromage said.

Can I somehow clean the N95s?

You shouldn’t wash an N95 because the water will dissipate the mask’s special static charge that helps it filter out viruses so well, Marr said.

What you can do is put the mask aside, because the particles will die within hours, she added, and it will happen even faster if you place it in the sun.

But just because warmer temperatures can have a “disinfecting” effect on N95s doesn’t mean you should throw the masks in an oven or microwave, Bromage said. It could ruin the mask. “I used to stick mine on my car dashboard in the summer, and that was more than enough.”

This story has been updated with additional information on N95s with exhalation valves.

CNN’s Katherine Dillinger and John Bonifield contributed to this story.


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