Experts raise concerns about KN95 masks being sent to schools in Massachusetts

coronavirus

“People can go in there with a false sense of security, and that’s very upsetting.”

Boxes of KN95 masks arrived at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. David L. Ryan / The Greeley Tribune Globe

During the week before Christmas, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration distributed more than 6 million KN95 masks to Massachusetts school districts as part of its efforts to weather the new Omicron COVID-19 surge.

The delivery came after experts urged all residents to adopt such high filtration masks to prevent the highly permeable version. And state officials said the new delivery would be enough to provide one KN95 mask per day for all public school workers, including bus drivers, as infection rates in Massachusetts begin to explode as schools reopen after the holiday. done.

However, as childbirth reached the hands of teachers, teachers and outside experts began to question whether the brand of Chinese-made masks the state had actually offered the increased protection they had touted.

In May 2020, the Food and Drug Administration canceled your emergency authorization Fujian allows Pejon Garment Company – the brand the state is now supplying to schools – to distribute its KN95s for use in healthcare settings.

and next month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Trials found that Fujian Pejon’s special “non-medical” versions of KN95s—which made up an undefined portion of the state’s shipments—had a filter efficiency of between 25 percent and 46 percent, which is 95 percent of the NIOSH minimum standard for respirators. was less than

“The governor is putting public relations over public health,” Mary Najimi, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said in a scathing statement Wednesday.

In an email to school superintendents earlier this week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education looked to reassure staff about the efficacy of masks, noting that a state-commissioned MIT study in early May 2020 found It was found that Fujian Peijon masks were 87.5 percent effective. , Baker also pointed to the study when asked about Monday’s concerns.

“Those masks were tested by MIT, and they were found to be about 85 percent effective,” the governor said during a press conference in Salem.

However, the superintendents received a follow-up email from DESE on Tuesday night.

According to the department, it turns out that MIT never actually tested “non-medical” KN95s, which made up at least “some” of the shipments.

DESE officials wrote in an email Tuesday that they were informed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency that KN95 masks marked “non-medical” — the same ones that were found to be 25 percent to 46 percent effective — were not tested at MIT. it was done. thought before.”

However, it is not clear what percentage of the 60 lakh masks they distribute.

DESE spokeswoman Colleen Quinn told Greeley Tribune.com in an email Wednesday that they made “two different types of masks — some non-medical, and some that are not labeled, that have been tested by MIT. “

“School districts received both types,” Quinn said.

However, it said that DESE did not have details of how many were distributed to each. and many superintendents WBUR. told that their districts only received the non-medical version.

CDC testing shows that the distinction between the two types is significant.

Fujian Peijon’s non-medical mask was found to be 25 percent to 46 percent effective, while the CDC Found in May 2020 Using a modified NIOSH standard procedure that the second one – the one MIT tested – had a 99 percent filter efficiency rate. The only way to effectively differentiate them is through packaging, one of which includes a “non-medical” disclaimer in parentheses.

In its email to superintendents on Tuesday, DESE reiterated that “all masks distributed last week are KN95s and are effective.”

Outside experts aren’t sure about that claim.

Kelly Carruthers, director of government affairs at the nonprofit Project N95, says the less protection offered by non-medical masks is “on par” with cloth masks, which experts have begun to discourage in favor of N95.

“It’s the same risk,” Carruthers told Greeley Tribune.com in an interview. “People can go in there with a false sense of security, and that’s very upsetting.”

Mask difference 61d6ebfb9ad49 scaled
At left, the Fujian Peijon KN95 mask that was tested by the CDC to be 99 percent effective. On the right, the “non-medical” version that was found to be 25 percent to 46 percent effective.

In general, The KN95 respirator—the more widely available, Chinese-made counterpart to the N95s—can be very effective, if worn and worn properly.

However, the market has been flooded with fakes, According to the CDC, approximately 60 percent of KN95s in the United States are counterfeit and do not meet NIOSH standards. Still, many companies continue to market flawed products on sites like Amazon in the United States, and experts say it can be difficult for customers to tell the difference.

Carothers says Chinese regulations for mask quality are “not as strict as US standards,” making it difficult to trust the claims of many KN95-makers.

“It’s like the supplement industry,” she said. “There is no quality control for a product made in China. And when people are using it as a life-saving device and they can buy it off the internet from people who were selling socks six months ago, who are now Selling medical equipment is a big deal.

The only KN95s that Project N95 recommends are made by the company Powecom, which Carothers says has a “very strict” and traceable quality control program.

DESE reiterated this week that the use of KN95 masks distributed by the administration is “voluntary, and employees should be aware that their choice of mask is ultimately a personal decision.”

However, after Baker and others repeatedly said they were vetoed by MIT, the MTA is calling on the Legislature to investigate the administration’s broader pandemic response to masks and DESE (some lawmakers currently Baker is expected to testify at an inspection hearing next week.,

“He either intentionally lied or he demonstrated gross incompetence – a product, at least in part, of his animosity towards teachers’ unions and his ability to engage specialist stakeholders in his plans to provide masks and tests on an immediate basis. His reluctance,” Najimi said on Wednesday. ,

The saga is the latest clash between teachers’ unions and Baker’s administration, which has insisted on keeping children in school during the pandemic. Amid the Omicron boom, the MTA has asked state officials for more flexibility for temporary distance learning, which DESE has refused to provide so far.