INDIANAPOLIS — You’ve heard that people should wear a higher-quality face mask as the contagious omicron variant spreads, but what should you look for in a mask and where can you find one?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any mask is better than no mask, but properly fitted N95, KN95 and KF94 masks offer stronger protection than the cloth masks many people have worn since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, messaging has been inconsistent and knowing which mask to pick and whether it’s a counterfeit can be a challenge.
Here are some answers to help you find your mask.
What are N95, KN95 and KF94 masks?
These are high-quality respirators that use electrostatically charged filters to block 94-95% of the particles in the air.
What are the differences between each type of mask?
N95: N95s are the go-to mask worn by health care professionals in hospital settings. They are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the CDC. The masks feature head straps, rather than ear loops, a NIOSH name or logo, a TC-Approval Number, a filter designation, a lot number and a model number. Click here to read a CDC guide to tell if an N95 mask is real or counterfeit.
KN95: A KN95 mask is manufactured in China and has ear loops. According to the CDC, about 60% of KN95 masks NIOSH evaluated in 2020 and 2021 did not meet its standards, so it’s important to purchase them through reputable sellers, which are discussed below. The CDC also advises people to be sure a KN95 mask includes a stamp that has the manufacturer’s name, the model and “GB2626-2019.”
KF94: KF94 masks are produced in South Korea and similar to KN95 masks. The New York Times reported that KF94 masks are not stamped with text, but the package should say “Made in Korea” and include the product name, manufacturer and distributor name.
Where can I find high-quality masks?
Given the proliferation of counterfeits, it is important to be cautious about where you buy your mask.
The nonprofit online site Project N95 vets the products it sells and describes itself as “the National Critical Equipment Clearinghouse for personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 diagnostic tests and critical equipment.” Project N95 sells N95 and KN95 masks, along with COVID-19 tests and other PPE items. The site is experiencing some delays in getting products to customers due to supply chain issues.
We're aware many have placed orders w/ us for Powecom KN95s, that you haven’t yet received. We know how important these masks are, & we apologize for this delay. The supplier for all Powecom KN95s in the US has experienced a major delay in shipping, at port & in fulfillment. A 🧵 pic.twitter.com/NzCHnxjRxr— Project N95 (@projectn95) January 13, 2022
Free N95 masks will also be available soon. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced it will begin distributing 400 million N95 masks from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile the week of Jan. 24 for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers around the country.
Consumer websites, such as Wirecutter, can also help guide you to the right product.
Here are links to find more information:
- CDC: Types of masks and respirators
- CDC: Factors to consider when planning to purchase respirators from another country
- CDC: How to tell if your N95 respirator is NIOSH approved
- CDC: Required labeling of NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators
- CDC: Masks that are not NIOSH-approved
- Mask Nerd: Spreadsheet with information on children's masks
- 3M: Information on respirator fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging
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