What to know about KN95 masks

The Minnesota Daily spoke with experts about KN95 and N95 respirator masks to inform students about the quality of masks and how to spot counterfeits.

by Ava Thompson

Demand for protective masks such as KN95, KF94 and N95 has risen since the onset of the pandemic, as they are more likely to protect individuals from COVID-19 variants than typical surgical masks, according to a CDC study. Here’s what you need to know about different types of masks to keep safe from the virus.

The University of Minnesota began an initiative to hand out KN95 and N95 masks to University members during the fall semester. While the demand for these masks is not known, the University has distributed 30,000 masks in the Twin Cities campus community, according to University spokesperson Jake Ricker in an emailed statement to the Minnesota Daily.

Misspelling on packages has led some students to doubt the legitimacy of the KN95 masks on Reddit, although the University confirmed that the masks that it handed out are valid via certifications from the FDA.

The KN95s purchased and distributed by the University were bought from two vendors, according to Ricker. That includes Innovative Office Solutions and Fisher Scientific, suppliers with which the University has been doing business for more than 15 years.

“The companies manufacturing masks supplied by these vendors had active applications and certifications through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Union and the International Respirator Assessment at the time the purchases were made,” Ricker said.

According to an article from the New York Times, an FDA-listed KN95 does not mean that the mask underwent testing or authorization, but rather that the FDA is “aware of its existence.” KN95s also did not meet the strict standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), who develop and test N95 masks.

Neil Carlson, who researches and tests masks as an industrial hygienist at the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said KN95s may not be the best fit for an individual’s face in comparison to the N95.

“​​Primarily K95 — it’s designed for maybe a narrower range of faces,” Carlson said. “We have people that we’re working with and they’re from different parts of the world with different shaped faces.”

According to Carlson, a good way to test the efficacy of your mask is to pull on the straps and see if it is collapsible when you breathe. Face masks should have flexible straps with some tension that do not break easily and a collapsible mask is a sign of efficient air particle filtration.

When it comes to shopping for a reliable mask online, Carlson said, it can be tricky. Avoiding non-reputable sites and reading reviews from other consumers can help reduce the risk of low-grade masks.

While the Minneapolis mask mandate has been repealed as of Feb. 24, the University’s mask mandate is still in place for any enclosed or indoor spaces on University campuses and public buildings.