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Monday, October 18, 2021

Choosing Masks for back to school

The kids are going back to school now. There is a mask mandate in school but even if there weren't we would mask up. It's time to go shopping for some masks for back to school. Shopping for masks can be rather confusing though. There are so many types and brands available. We can find them in supermarkets, pharmacies and online. Which one should we get?

In this post we will share with you some of our thoughts about shopping for masks. Please note that we are not in the medical profession, we are just parents shopping for masks by doing some research available online and sharing them with you.



    Photo by visuals on Unsplash

First, let's have a look at some of the types of masks available.
  1. N95 mask
  2. 3-ply or 4-ply masks
  3. cloth mask
  4. KF94 mask
  5. KN95 mask
With the exception of cloth masks, all the other masks are disposable and not to be worn more than once.

The N95 masks are usually used in health care settings. So we won't be looking at it in detail in this post.

Next comes the surgical 3-ply or 4-ply masks. Previously we used to wear 3-ply or 4-ply masks but then they say that is not good enough anymore and it is better to wear double mask by wearing a cloth mask over the 3-ply or 4-ply mask. This is the most affordable. However, it is not too comfortable for long hours of use.

That leaves us with KF94 mask and KN95 mask to explore and research.

KN95 vs KF94 masks

KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 mask in the U.S. A. Unlike the 3-ply masks which are flat across the nose and chin, the KN95 covers the nose and chin like a beak. It protrudes out a little and the breathability is better. Below is an example of a KN95 mask


The "KF" in KF94 masks stands for "Korean Filter". The shape is rather like a cross between the 3-ply mask and the KN95 mask. It stretches across the face but at the same time protrudes out a bit at the nose part, giving more space between the face and the mask. Like the KN95, the breathability is better. Below is an example of a KF94 mask.

 


Masks Comparison

Of all the various types of masks above, we like the KF94 best because of the comfort, fit and breathability when wearing. However, what is comfortable to one person feels differently on another. So you should test out several types of mask or have your child test out a few to decide which is the best in terms of comfort for long hours of use and also take into account the affordability for daily usage.

The wearing of mask is subjective. At the end of the day, we should get one that is not only safe but also comfortable enough for us to wear all the time. 

Real or Fake?

This is one real concern. For example if you are buying KN95 or KF94 masks locally or sourcing for KN95 direct from China or KF94 direct from Korea. How do you tell if they are real or fake? 

For locally made masks, you can go to this site to make a search. 
Medical Device Authority Register

You can key in the name of the mask brand if you know it or just key in KN95 or KF94 to see what is available in the approved list.

For Korean made masks, recently the Korean Embassy shared a post on how to avoid counterfeit KF94 masks. You can read up the post below.


    


The embassy shared a link to check if a mask sold is in the MFDS (Ministry of Food and Drug Safety) database. The words are all in Korean but no worries, we have google translate. We translated the words as shown below.




We checked out the Biomate brand KF94 masks to see if it is in the database. First we translated the word Biomate to Korean.


Then , we pasted the Korean word in the slot for "Company Name" and hit the search button. It yielded results to show that the company and mask was in the approved list by the MFDS.





We reached out to one of the Korean sellers who was willing to give us a discount code. You can use code KMOMMPSP1, KMOMMPSP2 or KMOMMPSP3 to get a 5% off the price of the masks when purchasing from here. The seller ships the masks directly from Korea. You can also find this mask being sold at local pharmacies at RM3/pc.

Note that this is only one of many masks being sold online or at pharmacies. You can do your own research in a similar manner as above when shopping for masks.

Testing your masks

You can also tests your masks efficacy in the following ways.
  1. Candle Test- Try to blow a candle out with your mask. You should not be able to do so
  2. Flame Test -  Cut the mask, count the filters and burn the filter. It should melt, not catch fire
  3. Water Test = Fill the mask with water - It should not leak
These are some of the ways suggested, you can find many articles and videos on this online.

Finally, here are some terms we should know
  • Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) 
  • Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE) 
  • Most-Penetrating Particle Size (MPPS)
Generally, the higher the number, the better. The '94' in KF94 or the '95' in KN95 refers to the PFE of the mask. You can read this article which explains the BFE and PFE in a simple and easy to understand manner.

KN95 and KF94 masks costs more than 3 or 4-ply masks and cloth mask. You can also find very cheap masks online but one word of caution is when something is too good to be true it usually isn't. We should always conduct a research to make sure that the masks we buy are approved by relevant authorities. When it comes to masks, time spent researching is worth it.

References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/types-of-masks.html
2. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
3. https://www.eurofins.com/consumer-product-testing/covid-19-product-testing/masks-respiratory-protective-devices/medical-surgical-masks/filtration-efficiency-testing-bfe-pfe/
4. https://www.a-star.edu.sg/News-and-Events/a-star-news/news/covid-19/explainer-testing-the-efficacy-of-protective-face-masks
5. https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/kf94-masks-effective-different-kn95
6. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-masks
7. https://covid-19.moh.gov.my/kajian-dan-penyelidikan/mahtas-covid-19-rapid-evidence-updates/3M_N95_KF_94_16072021.pdf
8. https://www.raffleshealth.com/health-articles/n95-kf94-surgical-or-cloth-which-mask-do-i-choose/
9. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-surgical-masks-face-masks-and-barrier-face-coverings


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