NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Not all masks are equal. Just ask Gary Warren, CEO of ivWatch, manufacturer of medical-grade N95 masks.
Coverage of mask stories often includes mention of both N95 and KN95 masks. Warren says the two should not be confused with one another.
“When I make N95s in the U.S., the manufacturing is overseen by the federal government. They audit us, they visit us, They make sure that we make them properly. KN95 is a Chinese standard, but nobody oversees the manufacture of KN95s. I could make KN95s in my basement and nobody would knock on my door as I sold them,” Warren said in a Tuesday interview on his production floor in the city’s Tech Center area.
ivWatch is a medical device manufacturer whose core business is a sensor that ensures proper use of IV therapy. It branched off into mask-making and is now one of only seven companies authorized by U.S. regulators to make its type of mask.
The N95 does not have ear loops, but a double elastic band system that fits across the top of the head and back of the neck, designed to create a tight fit. The mask material is electrostatically charged to help attract and filter out airborne particles, including COVID-19.
With the omicron coronavirus variant on the rampage, orders are piling up for a company that says its mask fits and filters better than any other.
“We’re running one shift right now and that one shift sells pretty much as fast as we make it, so we’re adding additional shifts now,” Warren said. Half a million masks roll off an American-made production line using raw materials sourced from North Carolina, Ohio and other domestic locales.
N95s are nothing new. They’ve been used in construction and health care for years, and are available at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s. We wanted to see how they compare with other types of masks, so we went to a testing area where the room was filled with airborne sodium chloride.
10 On Your Side’s Chris Horne tested a cloth mask he’s been using, washing and re-using for months. It failed miserably, scoring just 2 on a scale of a perfect 200 for fit and filtration.
A KN95 did better, letting in only half as many particles as the cloth mask, but also failing the test.
Then came an N95, which was about 50 times more effective than the cloth mask Horne had been using. Each box of 50 has its own QR code where you can see the test results from that particular lot. Warren says the ivWatch masks, sold under the brand name blox, provide “well over 99% filtration.”