It’s time to upgrade our masks – but where can you buy the masks that might actually protect you against the incredibly infectious Omicron?
A brief summary of the different mask types
There are so many different mask types – which should you use, and when?
NIOSH-approved N95 masks are the best, readily available, relatively inexpensive masks ($1-$3 per mask) for protecting against SARS-CoV-2 and the omicron variant. They undergo the rigorous inspection and certification set forth by NIOSH.
These masks give an extremely tight fit thanks to elastic headbands and an adjustable metal seal over the nose, which keeps the mask close to your skin.
They’re the best option for any high-risk settings but they have been sometimes difficult to find, and it can be tough to weed out the counterfeits (see below).
KN95 masks are considered the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks. They are made of the same synthetic material as N95 masks, and they filter out and capture 95 percent of particles in the air. They feature a tentlike shape that creates a little pocket of air between your nose and the fabric, which makes them appealing to many people: they feel easier to breathe through, less obstructive and stifling.
Because KN95 masks aren’t overseen by the mask-regulating body in the US, NIOSH, they aren’t considered as effective as N95 masks. But outside of health care and high-risk settings, this isn’t necessarily a big deal. The general public can benefit from wearing KN95 masks. Even KN95 masks that don’t meet NIOSH standards for filtration efficacy are probably still more protective than basic surgical masks and cloth face masks made of cotton, nylon or another nonmedical fabric.
The KF94 stands for “Korean filter,” and the “94” indicates a 94 percent filtration efficacy. Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease specialist, epidemiologist, and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says: “It is the South Korean equivalent to the N95 mask, with a few differences. It combines elements of an N95 mask with those of a cloth mask, contouring close to the face with an adjustable band around the bridge of the nose.”
Many people like them because the tentlike shape creates a little pocket of extra space between your mouth and the mask.
A 3-ply surgical masks is the very least you should be wearing during this current phase in the pandemic. Try to make sure it fits with no gaps, with a metal nose strip that molds to your nose.
Where can you buy masks?
Here are some of the reputable sources we found in our research.
- Project N95
- Bona Fide Masks – these were shipping fairly slowly last week
- DemeTECH on Amazon
- N95 Mask Co
- Protective Health Gear
You can find some great conversations and up-to-date feedback on where masks are being found for sale, on Facebook: at Yarmouth Community Coronavirus Task Force Facebook group and Fans of Dr. Nirav Shah Facebook group.
Which masks should I actually buy?
In our research, these masks came up as valid and well-respected N95 masks – if you can find them, you’re safe buying them.
- 3M Aura Particulate Respirator N95
[Supplier/Manufacturer: 3M Company, Model: 9205+, NIOSH approval number: 84A-8590]
- Protective Health Gear N95 Model 5160 Disposable Particulate Respirator (OSHA certified)
[Supplier/Manufacturer: Protective Health Gear, Inc., Model: 5160 (part number 879 N95) , NIOSH approval number: 84A-PH15]
- WellBefore WB-N-200 N95 Respirator Mask
[Supplier/Manufacturer: WellBefore, Model: WB-N-200, NIOSH approval number: 84A-7447]
- Professional Pouch Respirator #53358
[Supplier/Manufacturer: Kimberly-Clark, Model: 53358, NIOSH approval number: 84A-9042]
- Duckbill 3120 NIOSH Approved Surgical N95 Respirators
[Supplier/Manufacturer: Advanced Concept Innovations, Model: 3120 (FDA), NIOSH approval number: 84A-9318]
- NIOSH N95 Foldable Mask
[Supplier/Manufacturer: Xiantao Zhong Yi, Model: ZYE-02, NIOSH approval number: 84A-9247]
- BOTN Large White KF94 Face Mask for Adult, 4-Layer Filter and 3D Design, Adjustable Strap – various sizes inc Children, Large, XL
- LG Health Care Airwasher KF94 Mask
- Powecom KN95 Face Mask – Ear Loop
- Powecom KN95 Face Mask – with head bands
- Evolve Together Aspen – KN95 masks
- WellBefore KN95 – available with adjustable ear loops or head straps – various sizes
- Children’s Sized White KN95-SM Respirator Mask – Bona Fide Masks
- WeCare Disposable Face Mask, Adult, Black
- WeCare Disposable Face Mask Individually Wrapped
- MOCACARE Level 1 Mask – ASTM Level 1
- ECOGUARD 3-ply Disposable Face Mask
- DemeTech DemeMask Surgical Mask
- Medline 3-Ply Surgical Face Mask Cone Style with Band
- Evolvetogether Everyday Masks
Surgical masks are also widely available in boxes at pharmacies and are recommended by the Maine CDC’s Dr Shah.
You can still use regular 3-layer masks or cloth masks for lower risk activities, such as walking or playing outside. Ideally they should have a nose wire to prevent air leakage at the top of the mask.
How to make sure your mask is not counterfeit
Fraudulent face masks have become a problem on Amazon and other large online retailers. Manufacturers claim to be selling N95s, KN95s or KF94s, when in reality the masks they sell are not held to the same standards as masks that have undergone inspection by the US, Chinese or Korean governments.
The CDC has a running list of non-NIOSH-approved KN95s, KF94s and other protective masks that have gone through filtration testing (more info below). It’s near-impossible to spot counterfeit masks, especially when shopping online, but you can take a few steps to ensure that you’re getting the best protection possible:
- Buy from reputable retailers, such as CVS or Walgreens, which have vetting processes for wholesale products.
- Look closely at seller ratings and product reviews
- Be wary of new sellers that seem to pop up out of nowhere
- Check the product listing and URL to make sure the names match
- Double-mask if you’re unsure of the quality of your masks
CDC list of N95s
Want more information on those N95 respirators you found online?
There is a long list of CDC approved respirators here if you are considering buying some masks and want to check that they are NIOSH-approved – it may take some perseverance.
To determine whether a mask is NIOSH approved, click on the first letter/number of the brand/manufacturer of mask in the N95 section of the blue/green box. This will take you to a listing of masks beginning with the letter you selected. Scroll through the list of masks to see if the mask is present.
These approved N95 masks usually have the supplier/manufacturer, model, and NIOSH approval number stamped on the mask. For example:
How to wear a mask correctly
When wearing a mask, you should step up your game with masking:
(1) Because Omicron is so contagious, a cloth mask alone may not be enough to protect you from getting sick. Consider wearing a disposable medical mask with a cloth mask over the top, as shown below. Both masks have some leakage and the cloth mask over the top will mean a better fit.
(2) N95, KN95, and KF94 masks are medical grade respirators and are much better at filtering out particles that may be carrying the COVID virus. These masks have multiple layers and are now recommended for the general public, as well as for health care workers.
(3) When you use a mask, check its fit to ensure that it will protect you and others:
a) Does it fit properly over your nose and mouth to prevent leaks? If your glasses are fogging you don’t have a great fit.
b) How well does it fit your face and are there gaps?
c) Your mask should have at least two layers, but three is better.
d) Does it have a nose wire for better fit?
- CDC. COVID-19: Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html.
- CDC. COVID-19: Types of Masks and Respirators. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/types-of-masks.html.
- CDC. COVID-19: Your Guide to Masks. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html.
December 30, 2021 Yarmouth Community Coronavirus Task Force