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To N95, or not to N95 - that is the question

Every day in the media I am seeing so much respirator mask confusion. What works? What doesn’t? Should I wear a mask in public? What’s an N95 anyway? The information is all out there but it’s scattered in multiple locations.

First, the N95 mask, what is it? Technically a filtering face-piece respirator. N = not resistant to oil-based substances. 95 = in laboratory testing conditions it filters out 95% relevant particles. However, to obtain this level of protection the user must be medically cleared to wear a respirator. Then fit tested and properly fitted, no facial hair, etc. That is why you see most health care user protocols directing workers to wear multiple layers of masks along with the N95. Because most of these folks are not wearing it as “tight-fitting.” Keep in mind, not everyone can be medically cleared to wear tight-fitting respirators due to deficits in their own respiratory system.

So what about wearing a “loose-fitting” mask? Yes, anyone can wear one. But doing so reduces protection. So, why wear a loose-fitting mask? It may help protect folks around you. This virus is often carried by particles. For example, clinging to moisture droplets expelled in a cough. The loose-fitting mask can catch the particles, thus helping to protect those nearby if you happen to be a virus carrier. Science is telling us COVID-19 can be transmitted by someone who doesn’t yet know they have it. Loose-fitting masks help protect those nearby you. Thus, the fabric or self-made masks can be just as effective in that role.

We are starting to see supply chains introduce masks tested to other nation’s standards into the US marketplace. KN95 – tested to Asian standards, P2 – Australia, FFP2 – Europe, and more! Bottom line – these can be used as substitutes for the N95 in most cases when worn in the loose-fitting application. If ANY respirator mask is worn as a tight-fitting form of protection – then medical screening and fit testing are mandated for the user’s protection and safety.

Of course, before reuse, disinfect all protective masks. Masks are not a substitute for other protective measures, hand-washing, social distancing, etc.


Frank Wampol, Vice President of Safety and Health

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