What’s the Difference Between KN95 and N95 Masks?

Photo Courtesy: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images; Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Back in February 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoed the U.S. Attorney General, who had urged Americans to stop buying medical masks. At the time, the CDC stated that while standard surgical masks "help stop droplets from being spread by the person wearing them…they are not designed to protect against breathing in the very small particle aerosols that may contain viruses." By April, however, the CDC did a complete U-turn and changed its official guidelines: Folks should use cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

This new tune proved confusing to many Americans who believed they were doing the smart — and right — thing by foregoing masks, which were in short supply, even for healthcare workers and medical professionals. These days, masks are still required in public spaces like grocery stores and restaurants, but even though we’re more well-informed, there are still some lingering questions, particularly when it comes to different types of masks.

To complicate mask matters further, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only disaster that’s urging folks to invest in protective face coverings. If you live on the West Coast of the United States, you’ve been dealing with the ongoing effects of the wildfires devastating parts of California and Oregon — namely, all of that smoke. In other non-COVID-19 years, folks would buy N95 masks during wildfire season, but should you be doing so this year?