Coronavirus masks: What’s the difference between N95 and KN95?
Health care workers are prepared to protect themselves with Chinese-manufactured KN95 masks if faced with continued N95 respirator shortages, leading to the question: What is the difference between the two coverings, and are KN95s OK to use?
The family of Patriots owner Robert Kraft donated some 1 million masks to health care workers in Massachusetts and New York earlier this month by way of a roundtrip mission that sent their Patriots plane to Shenzhen, China. Local doctors confirm some of those masks are a KN95 model, which is produced in China, rather than the United States.
“We’re very grateful recipients of that donation,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, chief of infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center. “These kinds of circumstances require innovation, flexibility, and willingness to learn to use the precious resources we have.”
Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin sang the praises of the Chinese-made KN95s in a statement Monday, explaining that the “similar products must meet the high standards of filtration, and they function in the same way.”
“The purchase and delivery of these respirators to Massachusetts and New York were a godsend to frontline healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes who have been fearful and concerned about the dire shortage of personal protective equipment,” Slavin’s statement read.
The Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control have both approved the use of KN95 masks in the cases of N95 shortages, but appearances aside, there are two major differences between the masks: First, the American-manufactured N95 masks can withstand a slightly stronger pressure as the person wearing it inhales and exhales, according to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Michael Rajnik. Also, the KN95 mask just fits differently than the N95s.
“Fit is of maximal importance,” Rajnik told the Herald, but said KN95s were “adequately equipped” for doctors and physicians if they are produced by legitimate medical manufacturers like 3M.
“It feels different. It feels looser,” said Boucher, who confirmed Tufts Medical Center received the Kraft’s donation, including KN95s. “A respirator mask makes a tight feel on your face.”
But even with the N95 masks, Rajnik said, it’s out of the question to expect optimal use when fighting a virus of pandemic proportions. Workers using N95 masks typically get fitted for a particular type of respirator size and model, but those specifications just aren’t realistic when hospitals become overrun with critically ill patients.
“In war, they say, ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,’ and that’s what’s going on here,” Rajnik said.
Boucher said Tufts has not yet replaced any N95 masks with the KN95s, but experts are investigating ways to make the KN95’s face seal tighter for health care workers. Right now, she said, KN95s can certainly be used like regular surgical masks, at the very least.
“All of us are having to be adaptable in the face of this epidemic,” Boucher said. “All of our hospitals are working as hard as we can to preserve our PPE.”