FACE MASKS: N95, KN95, and surgical masks
UNDERSTANDING FACE MASKS- What are N95, KN95, and surgical masks?
Most healthcare professionals instantly recognize the 3 major face mask types that we are focused on right now: N95, KN95, and the 3 ply surgical masks. Many healthcare professionals do not understand the hidden differences for our current face mask options.
N95's are the glorified, elusive mask by US standards. Some quick stats:
- 3M is the major producer. They have manufacturing plants in 80 countries, including China and the US.
- Approximately 37 other manufacturers have FDA clearance to produce N95's.
- Most 3M N95 models are priced in the low $1 range. 3M has not raised pricing. The middlemen between you and the mask are the reason for the price increase. Here is a pricing chart directly from 3M's website:
- Initial and annual fit tests must be completed prior to using N95's. The annual fit test requirement has been temporarily waived if certain requirements are met. Another quick compliance note– the CDC and OSHA require a medical evaluation to be performed prior to the initial fit-testing. Since everyone isn't thrilled about visiting a doctor's office right now, this may be helpful- 3M is offering two free medical evaluations per customer via an online platform. After the medical evaluation is completed, there is an option of ordering a fit-test kit and having it delivered to you.
KN95 & FFP2 masks
These guys have been yanked around quite a bit by recent regulations, especially the KN95's. Other countries have similar standards that are comparable to our N95, like China's KN95 and Europe's FFP2. In April 2020, the FDA granted approval for an additional 65 KN95 manufacturers. Counterfeiters were waiting in hiding. Almost immediately, a wave of counterfeit masks flooded the market. The CDC/NOISH began their own testing of these 65 newly approved manufacturers. They found a shocking amount of either counterfeit KN95's, or legit FDA approved KN95's that did not live up to their own required standards. Now, you do have to remember, these legit, newly FDA-approved KN95 manufacturers hadn't done a thing wrong at that point. Although 11 tests were completed and 7 of those had failed standards, the media did not make it clear that these KN95's that were submitted for testing can actually be submitted by others, not necessarily the manufacturers themselves. This is still confused by many. The FDA decided that all of those 65 recently approved KN95 manufacturers will have to go through another application process, ensuring verification is available and adding policies to protect us from counterfeit.
The most important thing to remember- good fit is imperative. These masks come in different ‘levels', with differing standards from each country. The mask material itself can properly filter the majority of bacteria and viruses. The weak leak is in the air gaps between the face and the mask. Again, be careful of counterfeit. Ensure the middle layer of the 3 ply mask is melt-blown material. It keeps a majority of the little virus boogers out. According to many studies, these basic inexpensive masks can actually be pretty effective.
Of course, all of these details do not matter if you cannot purchase them from a trusted source. We will take this into further detail in our next article. Stay safe, hang in there, and call us if things get too tough. We are here to help!