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The School District of Philadelphia is updating its mask guidance to provide for more protection against the coronavirus.
The change, the district said, is in accordance with new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently said people “may choose” to wear N95 or KN95 masks because they offer the best protection against COVID-19.
Following the CDC’s lead, the SDP will now require students and staff to wear well-fitted N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, or to wear a cloth mask over a three-ply disposable surgical mask. The district provides disposable surgical masks to students or staff whose mask becomes damaged or stolen.
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An N95 mask filters out 95% of airborne particles and must pass a strict approval process by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. President Joe Biden’s administration recently began distributing free N95 masks through U.S. retailers, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and others.
A KN95 is the Chinese equivalent, but it has ear loops instead of the N95’s head straps. Early in the pandemic, the U.S. warned people to steer clear of KN95 masks due to a high number of counterfeits. However, there are ways to spot a fake KN95 mask. The SDP said it will provide a supply of KN95 masks at all district schools and offices for staff who want them starting Feb. 7.
Meanwhile, a KF94 mask is the Korean standard and indicated 94% filtration. These masks also feature ear loops instead of head straps.
Health experts maintain, however, that any mask is better than no mask, especially due to the COVID-19 omicron variant’s high transmissibility.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said the city is “probably several months away” from dropping its current mask rules as the virus continues to circulate.