What's the difference? - N95 vs. KN95


COVID-19 has left countries all over the world to scramble for whatever supplies that are left to protect its citizens.

It’s been roughly three months since we saw the first lockdown and “stay-at-home” orders were issued and carried out and you’d think that we are in a better place right now, but are we? 

Economy-wise, this pandemic has caused trillions of dollars in losses and while everyone’s health and safety are still of utmost priority, a country can't remain afraid and in lockdown forever. As of now, we are already seeing some slowly easing its restrictions and have already issued its citizen strict marching orders as to which establishments can open, how many can go out, and such. This puts us in a vulnerable spot as this might help the virus spread faster.

As such, an increased need for masks is all but certain. A few months in and while the balance between supply and demand seems to be a bit stable now, according to the WHO, current supplies are still far from what’s enough. While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, the organization estimates that there would be a global demand of 89 million medical masks. This is on top of the 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million goggles and visors needed to combat this invisible enemy.

Although the coronavirus has already started to make some buzz as early as the 4th quarter of last year, the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in the US was not reported until January 2020. Even then, it seems the government had enough of a head start to increase its stockpile of masks, gowns, gloves, and other related PPEs but that does not seem to be the case.


Why are masks needed?


There’s a lot of things that have not been discovered about the nature of the coronavirus but if there’s one sure thing, it acts the same way as its first cousin, the equally infamous SARS virus. As such, protecting yourself from acquiring this disease would involve constant disinfection and sanitation of the things that you may potentially come in contact with, avoid people who are showing signs and symptoms of the disease (cough, high fever, sneezing, flu-like symptoms), and if you can’t help to go out for a supply run, wearing a mask is your first line of defense (add on some goggles and a face shield and you’re safer).

The ones who are required to wear masks (aside from medical workers) are those who are sick. If you are in an enclosed area, if both people present, regardless if one has flu-like symptoms or not, wear masks, the chances of transmitting the disease will lower down to single-digit percentages. That’s how effective masks are.

In the US, the acceptable standard is N95 for medical masks. 3M is one company that manufactures such equipment. These masks are designed to filter 95% percent of foreign particles thus donning one will effectively protect you from inhaling virus particles afloat or surrounding you.

Considering how delicate the supply chains are right now, it is natural and imperative most of the available domestic supplies are diverted to medical institutions. Our medical frontlines, as risky as their jobs are, should be well-equipped to provide the care needed by the victims of this vicious virus. In line with this, the CDC has issued a statement telling the general public may resort to using cloth masks in the meantime. While this is not the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus, combining it with face shields and goggles (to prevent the virus from entering your body through your eyes), along with the standing stay-at-home order for some, the CDC hopes to still prevent the spread of the virus while making sure the masks reach those who need it the most.

Is it time to consider KN95?


The KN95 standard has been thrown around lately and with the dwindling supply of N95 masks, we think it’s time for us to consider using this. What is KN95 anyway? Well, the short answer is that according to 3M, who manufactures both types of masks, they’re the same type of masks albeit the N95 is just made following US standards while the KN95 were made based on Chinese standards.

It is important to note that functionality-wise, they both filter the same number of particles, up to 95%, making the KN95 as effective as the N95 for one’s protection against the coronavirus.

The major difference between the two is that part of the manufacturing process for KN95 masks involves a stringent mask fit test. A fit test is where you measure how well a mask fits around your face and how well a mask can filter when it’s on your face. The Chinese standard requires this as part of the manufacturing process of KN95 masks while the N95 masks do not. This doesn’t mean that N95 is any lesser institutions (including hospitals and other allied medical facilities) conduct their tests for N95s, it’s just that the manufacturer is not required to include it in the process of making them.

One other minor difference between the two just includes the breathability. The US standard requires N95s to be more breathable to not cause any drop in pressure when someone inhales or exhales. This means that it’s slightly easier to breathe using N95s compared to KN95s, but the difference is often negligible.

Bottom Line

So, where does this leave us? Empirical data shows that KN95s are a viable alternative to N95s and as of this writing, more and more institutions are considering supplementing their mask requirements with KN95s.

Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin praised the Chinese-made KN95s in a statement, explaining that the “similar products must meet the high standards of filtration, and they function in the same way.”
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have also both approved the use of KN95 masks in the cases of N95 shortages.

In times where the usual PPEs are a hot commodity, we should learn to be flexible and adaptable to whatever is available around us