Berkeley school district to transition students, faculty to China-certified KN95 masks

Berkeley Unified School District in California has announced that they have ordered thousands of KN95 masks, and will be making students and teachers wear them during in-person schooling.

Superintendent Brent Stephens briefed the community on the decision in a statement justifying the “transition” in masks citing the Omicron variant as the reason for tougher measures. The school district is working to “expand testing” on their campuses, as well as their contact tracing measures, and will be making sure everyone masks up with a KN95 mask.

“BUSD has ordered 10,000 KN95 masks (both pediatric and adult), which we expect to be delivered by about mid-week. (We have about 30,000 more KN95 masks on order.) We’ll quickly begin distributing these to schools, and will begin to transition all students and staff to these new masks. More information about moving to KN95s will come soon,” the statement reads.

This appears to contradict advice given by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in January of last year, pre-Omicron, advising against the use of similar N95 masks in the general public, citing them as “hard to breathe in” and “hard to tolerate.”

“They’re very hard to breathe in when you wear them properly,” she explained. “They’re very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in an N95 mask. They’re hard to tolerate all day every day. And in fact, when you really think about how well people will wear them, I worry that if, if we suggest or require that people wear an N95, they won’t wear them all the time.”

However, a Washington Post report seems to indicate that the CDC is leaning toward changing that recommendation for people who can comfortably tolerate the mask. This has caused a preemptive rush on the medical-grade masks and prices are rising as a result, however, it is not clear whether they are going to be recommended for everyone, let alone children in classroom settings.

While KN95 masks are designed differently than the traditional N95, a recent Forbes article on the subject indicates that there is very little difference between the two, except the country of origin.

“The difference between the three masks comes down to which country or organization certified the mask—the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health certifies N95 masks, while KN95 masks are manufactured in China and meet Chinese standards and KF94 masks meet Korean standard requirements,” the article notes.

Chinese-made KN95s may not always be manufactured with regulatory oversight to assure quality of filtration, but there are many United States producers who make high-quality versions of the masks, according to ProjectN95 executive director Anne Miller.

Twitter users were not happy with the news coming out of Berkeley:

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