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KN95s are OK if you're not a health care worker

I recently purchased a package of masks at a market labeled KN95. I know what N95 means, but what does the K mean (or is it for “knockoff?”) and is it OK to use for what it’s meant to do? Thanks for the help.

— Dan in CP

The “K” in your masks’ name actually communicates that it meets the Chinese standards for respirators, and not the U.S. ones. It’s made in China, and it’s not a knockoff, but it is not entirely comparable to the N95 respirator we’ve all become so familiar with during summers of wildfire smoke and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Food and Drug Administration in May clamped down on the use of the KN95s — but specifically for use in health care settings during the pandemic. The agency had previously authorized 80 manufacturers to supply the masks to medical professionals, but revoked authorization for 65 of them, citing poor quality.

The Oregon Health Authority reported the change May 9, in conjunction with Oregon OSHA. The announcement clarified, though, that while KN95s are not acceptable for health care workers, whose environment is uniquely high-risk, they are acceptable for use by other workers.

The masks that are being provided via the Oregon stockpile to agricultural workers, for example, are KN95s, according to La Clinica.

OHA’s report in May compared their effectiveness to the use of disposable, fabric or paper face coverings.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.