Effectiveness of surgical, KF94, and N95 respirator masks in blocking SARS-CoV-2: a controlled comparison in 7 patients

Background: Data on the filtration efficacies of various masks against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are limited. We thus evaluate the effectiveness of the surgical mask, the N95 respirator mask, and its equivalent (KF94 mask) in filtering SARS-CoV-2.

Methods: Patients hospitalised with SARS-CoV-2 infection were instructed to cough five times each while wearing (1) no mask, (2) surgical mask, (3) KF94 mask, and (4) N95 mask. The coughs were separated by 20-second intervals, and the patients were rested for at least 5 min between each setting. SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in patient samples (i.e. nasopharyngeal swabs and saliva), petri dishes placed in front of the patients during coughing, and swabs from the outer and inner surfaces of the masks were analysed with PCR.

Results: A total of 7 patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection participated in the mask test. SARS-CoV-2 was detected on the petri dishes after coughing in 3 out of 7 cases with the surgical mask or no mask. Viral particles were not found in the petri dishes after coughing while wearing the N95 mask or the KF94 mask. While viral particles were detected in both the inner and outer surfaces of the surgical masks, those were detected only in the inner surfaces of the N95 and K94 masks.

Conclusion: Surgical masks were less effective in filtering viral particles from coughing patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. N95 masks and its equivalents efficiently blocked SARS-CoV-2 particles from coughing patients.

Keywords: N95 respirator; Surgical mask; coronavirus disease 2019; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.