Cloth masks aren't as effective against the rapidly spreading omicron variant of COVID-19, so there's a push from health officials to wear N95 or KN95 masks. They're higher quality and offer a tighter, more secure fit than reusable cloth or surgical masks. N95 and KN95 masks (made in the U.S. and China respectively), are equally effective at filtering out 95 percent of airborne particles. Since health care professionals should have priority using N95s, they may be hard to find, making KN95 masks the next best option. When you order KN95 masks for you and your kids, you should know that fake KN95 masks exist. The CDC said that 60 percent of masks labeled KN95 are counterfeit.
How to Avoid Buying a Fake KN95 Mask
Use these guidelines from the CDC:
- Validate that the mask was tested by an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited test laboratory in the country that holds the standard.
- Look for masks stamped with GB2626-2019. KN95 masks made after July 1, 2021 are required to have this stamp, which provides assurance that the manufacturer constructed the mask according to current Chinese guidelines.
- Look for masks with the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approval label. The CDC shared this image of an N95 mask so you can see what this looks like. Be wary if NIOSH is spelled incorrectly.
- It shouldn't say "FDA-approved," "FDA-registered," or "FDA-listed," explained ECRI's president and CEO, Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, as the FDA doesn't provide so-called certificates of approval. This just means the manufacturer filed the paperwork to make the FDA aware that it exists, Schabacker said. It doesn't mean the mask has been authorized or tested.
- Look out for packaging that uses words like "genuine," "legitimate," "authentic," or "reputable." If it's a trusted, established company, it shouldn't have the need to convince you.
- The mask itself should display the name of the company or logo. Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that sells vetted PPE, COVID-19 tests, masks, and other critical equipment, explained that reputable companies want to build brand awareness, so if the mask is blank, that's another red flag. Likewise, the package should show the company's location, so you know where the masks were manufactured. A website or physical address should be visible in case you need to get in touch with the manufacturer with questions or concerns.
- There should be an expiration date, explained Christina Baxter, CEO of Emergency Response TIPS, LLC, an emergency response education and consulting company, since the materials can deteriorate over time.
- Legitimate masks will be sealed in a way that lets you know they could not have been tampered with. Masks that come in a baggie with a twist tie are a no-go.
- Look for superior quality in the mask itself. They should not have crooked nose wires, uneven elastics, or those that fall off easily.
How to Buy Authentic N95 and KN95 Masks
For N95 masks, Go to ProjectN95.org, a website that links to certified and vetted masks, Costello said. They sell both NIOSH-certified and FDA-cleared N95 masks in sizes small through extra large. Here's where you can buy KN95 masks.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.