While distribution of the new COVID-19 vaccines is ramping up across parts of the United States, prevention tools like wearing face masks and social distancing likely will be with us for some time, health experts have said.
Because of this – and because the spread of a new, highly-contagious coronavirus variant is making headlines – some people are being even more cautious about the kinds of face masks they wear out in public.
While N95 and KN95 face masks were hard to get and were being reserved mostly for front-line medical workers at the beginning of the pandemic last year, supplies of these items have expanded recently and more people have been ordering them online for personal use.
N95 respirators are the PPE most often used to control exposures to infections transmitted via the airborne route, though their effectiveness is highly dependent upon proper fit and use. N95 respirators are intended to be used once and then properly disposed of and replaced with a new N95 respirator.
“Actually a type of respirator, an N95 mask offers more protection than a surgical mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. As the name indicates, the mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable. However, researchers are testing ways to disinfect N95 masks so they can be reused.”
If you’re not familiar with the KN95 masks, you’re not alone. Mask manufacturer 3M has described it this way: China’s KN95s masks are pretty much an equivalent to the N95 masks used in the U.S. And both types are increasingly being sold online. Of note: According to our sister site, Cleveland.com, KN95 masks aren’t regulated the same way N95 masks are in the U.S. and may not provide the same protection, though they’re likely more effective than a surgical mask. The CDC published a list of NIOSH-approved N95 respirators and the FDA has a list of non-NIOSH-approved KN95 respirator models approved for emergency use during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Shopping for some new N95 and KN95 face masks? Here are some bestsellers available for purchase online now: