Choosing the Right Mask For You – What is N95 and KF94? What kind of mask should you be wearing?
How do you keep yourself safe in the current pandemic? One way is by wearing a mask. Asian countries, with the mask-wearing culture and lessons learned from their experience during the SARS epidemic, adopted ‘masks for all’ practice very early on, while other countries were hesitant to follow suit. Now, the World Health Organization has confirmed that its official advice is to wear face coverings when you leave your house and are unable to socially distance.
But what mask should you wear? If you are in a hurry is any mask better than none or should you only wear specific scientifically tested masks like the N95 and KF94? Here’s what you need to know about face masks and where to buy the best face masks.
Why Wear a Mask?
It’s often assumed that people wear masks to prevent them from getting infected from Coviv-19. Although masks could have that effect also, this is not the main reason to encourage the general public’s broad mask use.
The purpose of wearing masks is to stop other people from picking up the germs from you, in case you are infected, in other words you’re a ‘carrier’ – who in many cases can be asymptomatic. When you sneeze, cough, or even talk, the mask will collect the droplets and sprays coming out of you that may contain viruses and stop you passing them on. Wearing a mask is a courtesy for other people and a collective effort to reduce the spread in the community.
Meanwhile, wearing masks alone will not entirely prevent Covid-19. As Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove from the WHO told The Guardian: ‘Masks must be part of a comprehensive strategy…they must be used with a number of measures.’
Handwashing, social distancing, and quarantine when needed are all equally important and should be observed alongside wearing masks.
N95 vs KF94
You may have heard about a few types of masks in the media that are touted as high-efficacy, industry-standard products: N95 and KF94 being probably the most reputable. But how much extra protection will they offer you compared with regular face coverings?
An N95 respirator mask is a type of Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR) which is most often used in medical settings. They cover the nose and the mouth and are sealed around the edges to prevent any air particles from getting in. The masks are thoroughly tested to make sure they are highly resistant to fluids, bacteria, and particles.
Although this might sound like one of the safest options, they are only suitable for those in very close contact with COVID-19 patients such as healthcare professionals. The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical equipment does not recommend that these masks be worn by the general public. N95 masks can make breathing difficult, especially for those with chronic respiratory issues – those most at risk from COVID-19. Furthermore, the masks do not offer full protection for those with facial hair or young children.
KF94 masks are manufactured and tested in Korea. In terms of filtration effectiveness, N95 and KF94 are nearly identical—more than 95% for N95 and more than 94% for KF94.
However, there are a few differences in the testing methods to adhere to the respective standards. For example, US certification agencies test filtering performance using NaCl (salt particles) while the Korean standards test for both NaCl and paraffin oil. US standards test against a flow rate of 85 liters per minute, whereas Korea test at 95 liters per minute.
In addition, KF94 masks require the test for CO2 clearance preventing the build-up of CO2 within the mask, and a human fit test – neither of which is required to get the N95 label.
While the KF94 masks do require generally more intensive methods of testing, it is hard to say there is a substantial difference between the two masks in the actual practice. For instance, some studies have suggested the CO2 build-up might be dangerous in particular situations like exercising while wearing the mask, but other studies have suggested this is not the case. The differences between the test agent and flow rates used are minor.
Which Mask Should You Buy? Any Covering That’s Comfortable!
The reality is both KF94 and N95 offer levels of protection that is unnecessary for the general public’s everyday use. Moreover, N95 and KF94 masks are in short supply and should be preserved for the medical community.
Instead, the WHO’s advice is that in an ideal situation you should use a ‘three-layer fabric mask: absorbent cotton closest to the face, followed by a polypropylene layer and then a synthetic layer that is fluid-resistant’. However, the U.S Centre for Disease and Protection has suggested that even a single layer material can substantially reduce droplets.
According to Peter Chin-Hong, MD, infectious disease specialist at UCSF, for the general public, the most important consideration may be comfort; “The best mask is one you can wear comfortably and consistently.”
In conclusion, we should wear a face mask—any mask, even a single layer of any fabric, and the best mask is the most comfortable mask for you. Freedom Cloet's MaskClip allows you to effortlessly create one, two, or three-layer masks with the material you pick, and adjust the size and fit to be the most comfortable for you to wear. Freedom MaskClip is all about making mask-wearing easier and more comfortable.