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You’ve probably heard that N-95 masks are the most effective face covering around—and you’ve probably also heard that they should be reserved for frontline workers. But do you know about its sister, the KN95 mask? The small amount of KN95 masks available on Amazon have been selling like hotcakes, but they’re finally back—and happily on sale—so here’s a rare chance to snag some. Read on…
KN95 masks—these 4-ply versions from Magicare are $38 for 20—are incredibly similar to N-95 masks. It’s just that KN95 masks are authorized by the Chinese government, while N-95 masks are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
“The basic difference is regulatory,” says Dr. Kavita Patel, managing director of clinical transformation at The Brookings Institution’s Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform. “KN95 masks are approved by Chinese regulators, and in theory they are similar to N-95 masks, which are approved by the FDA but also likely to be manufactured in China. This means they keep out 95 percent of particles, which is essentially the highest filtration you can get.”
The KN95 mask’s interaction with the U.S. medical system has varied recently. When the pandemic first hit and N-95 masks and other medical-grade masks were in particularly short supply, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for medical workers to use KN95 masks. Now, the FDA has removed its emergency use authorization for several manufacturers of KN95 masks after they failed to filter out up to 95 percent of particles—a hallmark of N-95 masks. However, others are still authorized for use.
Many healthcare professionals use KN95 masks, as there is still a shortage of N-95 masks for clinic-based doctors. “The sense is that these are better than the common surgical mask, which filters anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of particulates, depending on type and fit,” says Dr. Patel. “Compare this to cloth masks, which optimally can filter about 60 percent of particles.”
That said, while regular 3-ply disposable masks or cloth masks should do the job when you’re social distancing at least six feet away, KN95 masks offer more protection in riskier situations, like on public transportation or when flying.
High-quality KN95 masks reportedly prevent the spread of coronavirus as effectively as N-95 masks. So they’re the best thing you can get aside from N-95 masks (which should be reserved for frontline workers).
“If your source for a KN95 mask is reliable, you should be fine to buy them,” Dr. Schaffner says. “They’re comparable to the N-95 masks that we use.”
It’s important to note that it’s unclear if these KN95 masks meet the FDA’s emergency use authorization. But they claim to filter out more than 95 percent of particles. They also offer 4-ply protection and feature a three-dimensional design, making it easier to breathe while wearing the mask for long periods of time.
The masks feature elastic ear loops, a metal piece to mold the mask to your nose and fluid-resistant technology.
Keep in mind that wearing any mask doesn’t mean you should stop continuing to practice known methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19, like social distancing and regular hand hygiene. “We do these things in combination, not in isolation,” says Dr. Schaffner.
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