Millions of KN95 Masks Sent to Massachusetts Schools Prompts Questions Over Effectiveness

Teachers in Massachusetts are questioning the effectiveness of the "non-medical" KN95 masks that were distributed among school districts last month amid the surge in COVID cases.

The masks delivered are meant to provide protection for public school staff and students as they return after the holiday break amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

However, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) argued that the Chinese-brand masks don't provide enough protection against the virus and accused Governor Charlie Baker of not prioritizing public health. The masks are manufactured by Fujian Pageone and labeled "non-medical."

Still, Baker said on Monday, according to CBS Boston, that the "roughly 6 million" masks distributed to school districts were tested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and "were deemed to be about 85 percent effective."

The MTA president Merrie Najimy said in a statement on Wednesday that Baker's claim "has now been proven wrong , and to assert it was negligent and dismissive."

The association pointed out that Gregory Rutledge, a chemical engineering professor at MIT, said that MIT didn't test the KN95 masks that were delivered to school districts.

MIT helped in assessing the efficacy of KN95 and N95 masks in spring 2020 to ensure healthcare workers are protected, according to the association's statement, but Rutledge said that his lab didn't test the KN95 masks in question.

"The governor is putting public relations over public health," Najimy added.

In an email sent to superintendents and school officials, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) confirmed that the masks have not been tested by MIT.

Millions of KN95 Masks Sent to Massachusetts
Six million masks were delivered to school districts in Massachusetts to provide protection against the virus as students and school staff return from the holiday break. Here, a sign on the fence outside of Lowell elementary school asks students, staff and visitors to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on January 5 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

"As you know, DESE distributed KN95 masks to districts last week. We received an update from MEMA [Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency] today that some of the masks in the distribution, masks marked 'non-medical' have not been tested at MIT as previously thought," the email read, according to Wednesday Tweet by Patricia Kinsella, an Interim Superintendent at Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

Still, the department added that the KN95 masks distributed "remain effective" and protect against COVID when worn properly per CDC guidelines.

Though the DESE said that the KN95 masks make up "some" of the 6 million masks distributed to school districts, no details were revealed about how many they were in that shipment.

A DESE spokesperson told Boston.com on Wednesday that school districts received "two different types of masks—some of the non-medical, and some that are not labeled, which are the ones tested by MIT."

The efficacy of the KN95 masks has been questioned by federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In June 2020, the CDC said that the KN95 masks have a "maximum and minimum filter efficiency was 45.80 percent and 25.20 percent, respectively" which is below the 95 percent NIOSH minimum standard for respirators.

Also in 2020, the FDA rescinded its authorization for the KN95s masks for not meeting the agency's emergency use authorization eligibility criteria.

Newsweek reached out to the DESE and the governor's office for comment.