Face masks have become a way of life for many across the U.S. and KN95 face masks are a popular option. Here is everything you need to know about KN95's.
KN95 Face Masks: What You Need to Know
Despite the roll-out of vaccinations, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on around the world, leaving us to resort to some of our earliest defenses. With the emergence of new viral variants, experts are again recommending the use of face masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The Delta variant, which is more than twice as contagious as the original strain of the virus first identified in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019, is prompting people to look for a better-quality mask.
Once again, our safety experts find themselves flooded with questions about the most readily available option, KN95 face masks. When can the KN95 masks be worn, how well do they perform, and will they keep the wearer safe?
What are KN95 Face Masks?
Most people know that KN95 face masks are the Chinese equivalent of the N95 respirator that is commonly used in the United States and Canada, but what does that really mean? Every country has its own standards for the performance of respiratory protection. Here in the United States, we utilize the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for respiratory protection, ANSI Z88.2. In China, they utilize the GB2626 standard.
Both standards require the same level of filter efficiency. They both require masks to capture at least 95% of particles that are 0.3 micron in size or larger. That means that both the N95 and KN95 face masks are effective at protecting wearers against COVID-19.
Are KN95's Effective?
Are you skeptical on the effectiveness of KN95 face masks? Allow us to put your worries to rest. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who regulates the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the healthcare industry, acknowledged the effectiveness of KN95 face masks when they enacted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for them in April 2020 amid shortages of NIOSH-approved N95 masks.
The FDA worked with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to compile a list of KN95 face masks that served as suitable alternatives for front-line healthcare workers when N95 masks were not available. For a significant period of time during the pandemic, those with the highest potential for exposure were outfitted with KN95 face masks.
In July 2021, the FDA redacted the EUA for KN95 face masks, not because of the effectiveness of the mask, but because N95 respirators were more readily available for use in the healthcare setting. This just means that there are more KN95 face masks available for the general public! Having been on the FDA list for emergency use in healthcare, you can trust that these will protect you from contracting COVID-19 in your day-to-day life.
Despite the proven effectiveness of KN95 face masks, we know that there are still many questions around the proper selection and use of them, so our experts put together some guidance on the best ways to stay safe using KN95 face masks.
How do I know if my KN95 face masks fit?
A secure, proper fit is the key to ensuring adequate protection when it comes to respiratory PPE. But when you aren’t used to wearing it on a regular basis, it can be difficult to know what a correct fit looks like!
You will know that your mask is too small if the ear loops pull on your ears or moves/falls off your face when you turn your head. A mask that is too big will have visible gaps along the bridge of the noise and the chin and will slide down your face. A mask that fits correctly will be snug to the face without causing any pain behind your ears.
Know your noggin.
Comfort is important when it comes to any type of PPE. Masks that are too big or small will be discarded. Head size as well as ear placement can vary greatly from person to person. KN95 face masks are made in a variety of sizes, but sizes are rarely listed by the manufacturer.
Your mask is too tight if it pulls on the ears or falls off when you talk or move your head. If the mask is too big, it will fit loosely, possibly compromising the protective seal. Conney Safety has taken the time to identify the relative size of these masks for your workers.
KN95 face masks not sealing? Try this.
Just like head sizes, nose sizes and shapes vary. For the best seal, form-fit your mask nose clip to your nose before putting it on, then use your fingers on each side of the nose bridge to contour the metal clip tighter to the skin. This will boost air filtering performance and help reduce eyeglass fogging. Make sure to look in a mirror for any gaps around the nose or under the chin.
Eyeglasses or safety glasses fogging up?
Surprisingly, eyeglass and safety glass fogging can still occur with a well-fitting mask. Exhaled air can leak out through the fabric, clouding your lenses and limiting vision. Here’s how to adjust your nose clip to reduce pesky fogging:
•Bend the metal nose clip before putting on your mask.
•Once your face mask is on, form the clip to your nose shape by working from the center down to the edges.
•Another tip: try placing your face mask higher on your nose bridge, with glasses resting on top of the mask fabric.
•If your lenses are persistently foggy, consider upgrading to anti-fog safety glasses or use an anti-fog spray.
KN95 face masks, surgical masks, or cloth masks – which is more effective?
Hands down, KN95 face masks do a better job of filtering airborne particles and protecting the mask wearer than a surgical mask or a cloth mask. A study performed by NIOSH has shown the KN95 face mask’s superior ability to protect users over other types of masks that are commercially available. KN95 face masks were shown to filter out over 95% of particles while surgical masks and cloth masks were only 42% and 44% effective, respectively.
Which brands of KN95 face masks have the most generous ear loop sizing?
Ear loop sizes remain consistent between brands. But Big K KN95 face masks and Wesco® Suzhou Trading Co. KN95 face masks have a bit more ear loop length to fit larger heads. If the ear loops are painfully pulling on your ears and a larger mask is not available, consider using a face mask ear loop extender, which attaches to the ear loops and fastens behind the head.
Should I fit test all employees wearing KN95 face masks?
In May 2020, OSHA released an Interim Guidance that allowed for the use of KN95 face masks in lieu of N95, or other appropriate NIOSH-approved respiratory protection. This means that if a company that typically relied on N95 respirators as part of their existing Respiratory Protection Program could not gain access to N95 respirators, or suitable alternatives, they could utilize KN95 face masks instead.
If the KN95 face masks were to be used in this situation, it would require a fit test. However, because of the increased availability of NIOSH-approved respiratory protection equipment, OSHA has now walked back on that rule and the use of KN95 face masks in respiratory protection programs is no longer allowed.
With new mask mandates in place across the country, employers may be inclined to provide KN95 face masks for their employees as they are the most effective at preventing the transmission of COVID-19. If KN95 face masks are only used for the sole purpose of curbing the spread of COVID-19, a fit test is not required. In this case, KN95 face masks are being used in place of the less effective surgical or cloth masks.
Will KN95 face masks continue to be readily available?
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee. Availability depends on many factors, including access to raw materials, manufacturing resources and timely shipping.
Our Workplace Safety Experts recommend stocking up on a generous supply of KN95 face masks in a variety of sizes before unexpected shortages occur. This will ensure you are prepared for crisis-use scenarios. If you are looking to buy KN95 face masks, we have a large supply of KN95 face masks formerly on the FDA cleared list in stock that you can buy online.
With the World Health Organization rapidly identifying variants of interest and variants of concern, it is likely that the need to protect ourselves will endure into the coming winter months. Face masks are one of the easiest tools we have at our disposal to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants, with KN95 face masks being the most effective option available. Contact us today for more information on obtaining KN95 face masks and other critical pandemic-related materials.