DENVER (KDVR) – As Colorado begins offering KN95 masks and the federal government will make available N95 masks to curb a sharp rise in omicron variant cases, you may be questioning the difference between the two kinds of masks and if it makes an impact to choose one over the other.
First, it’s important to make clear that the CDC officially refers to N95s and KN95s as respirators (but we’ll continue to refer to them also as masks in this article). And according to recent CDC guidance, choosing one over the other doesn’t matter in terms of offering a higher level of protection against COVID-19 and filtering air.
In fact, the CDC recently rated well-fitting respirators ahead of common cloth masks as the best option to protect yourself from the rapidly spreading Omicron variant: “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”
In the simplest explanation, the difference between the N95 and the KN95 respirator is that one (the N95) is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH — the mask-regulating body in the United States. The KN95 is made to meet Chinese standards and isn’t NIOSH-approved.
However, both masks filter out and capture 95% of tiny 0.3 micron particles in the air, hence the “95” in the names.
One notable feature that differentiates the two is how they are worn: NIOSH-approved respirators (AKA N95s) generally do not have ear loops; They come with headbands to enable a better fit. Click here to see how what the CDC considers a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator.
The CDC cautions, however, about 60% of KN95 respirators NIOSH evaluated during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 did not meet the requirements that they intended to meet, meaning they could be fake.