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Choosing the Right Mask for Covid and Figuring out Where to Buy

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I'm a mother, environmental scientist & former Covid contact tracer who does research on a variety of health-related topics. Copyright 2021

Background

There are a lot of masks out there, a lot of different advice as to what to wear and a lot of companies trying to sell you something. If you want to figure out how to navigate the pitfalls out there when buying masks, there are several resources to check. But first, let's recognize that COVID-19 is airborne. It's old news, but something that isn't commonly being discussed and should be factored in when deciding what type of mask you want to buy.

I am personally familiar with PPE, having worn masks and other equipment while sampling at hazardous waste sites, and having a child with a medical condition, I have current experience trying different types of masks during the Covid pandemic.

Unfortunately, there aren't many great options out there right now, but you should be aware of a few simple tricks to avoid buying a mask that ends up not being as protective as what you thought you were buying.

The Main Points to Consider

1. What kind of mask do you want? Decide what kind of mask you want based on your risks and planned activities. N95, KN95 or something that fits well where you are at least attempting to filter out most of the Covid exposure given the airborne status. It makes sense to get the best available.

2. Is the mask certified? Check to make sure the mask is NIOSH certified.

3. Who are you buying from? Verify the supplier is registered. Find out where the mask is made.

4. Is the mask fraudulent? Check to see if there are any fraud alerts or red flags from the questions above for the type of mask you have or want to buy.

What Kind of Mask

This is your personal decision. If you want the best available you need an N95 or KN95. If we all had these to begin with, we could have had a significant impact on controlling the spread. Even though cases are trending down and vaccinations are getting under way, it doesn't mean we shouldn't still be wearing the best possible masks. Why not take advantage of the extra protections (for yourself and everyone you come into contact with)! Let's just get rid of Covid by stopping the spread with the BEST possible tools.

The Ideal Mask

In my opinion, the ideal mask meets the following criteria:

1. N95 NIOSH certified

2. Made in USA

3. Purchased directly from the manufacturer

Since we can't buy directly from US manufacturers like 3M and Kimberly Clark, we can at least buy from places that we are familiar with like Amazon. Amazon shows they are getting some N95s directly from Kimberly Clark. We are starting to see more availability of N95s in general, and very nice to see those made by US companies (why this is important below).

N95 Made in USA by Kimberly Clark

The N95 Kimberly Clark Mask

This mask in particular has a lightweight feel. None of these masks are very stylish (usually trading off style for function), but this pouch style is actually nice because it doesn't sit up against your nose and mouth like many other masks. This is especially important after you've worn it for a while so you don't have a wet mask against your face. The around the head straps are more comfortable (and more reliable) than the ear loops. It may feel a little tight, but that's what is giving you the seal around your face which won't let outside air in when you breathe. The nose clip is embedded into the fabric so you won't have it moving around or falling off as I've seen on other masks. Of course, not every mask will fit everyone the same. All we can do is evaluate the options and make the best choices.

Make Sure the Mask is Certified

Check to see if the mask is NIOSH approved. This means that NIOSH has tested that model to confirm it meets the what the manufacturer claims for filtration.

You can check this through the CDC website. Choose the type of mask and then search for the manufacturer. Under each manufacturer, the mask model numbers will be listed. More information including a photo of the mask, the packaging, and the user instructions should be available. If you're having trouble locating the supplier or manufacturer, it may be listed under a parent company.

Note that the difference between an N95 and a surgical N95 is that the surgical N95 is also cleared by the FDA as a surgical mask. For everyday purposes, just the NIOSH certification is enough.

You may find that companies are listed as FDA approved medical suppliers. This does not mean that the masks they are selling you are legitimate. I recently purchased 3M masks from a company that was FDA registered, looked very legitimate, but the masks they sold me were fraudulent. They looked absolutely perfect when comparing them to what they should look like. More on this later.

Here is an example of NIOSH certification for the Kimberly Clark mask above.

Knowing If Your Mask Is Fraudulent

As I mentioned above, it may be impossible to know whether the mask is fraudulent. If you can't find the company in the CDC NIOSH list, it probably means they are a third party supplier. They are likely purchasing from overseas where we don't have very good insight into the quality.

The 3M mask pictured below is one I received and eventually found to be fraudulent through a 3M Fraud Alert. 3M is continually updating their findings of fraud, but it may take time for them to discover that something out on the market is fake. I had my masks for about 2 months before the fraud alert came out, but they had been on the market for about 4 months.

What Now?

If you're worried about taking N95s away from healthcare workers, it turns out that there are US companies that have popped up since Covid to manufacture N95s and they have plenty of available stock. Many healthcare facilities want to stay with the masks they have already been buying and have fit tested their employees for and haven't transitioned over to these newly available masks. Most N95s available therefore are still reserved for healthcare workers.

Hopefully we will start to see more N95 products become available from US manufacturers that we can verify the quality and certifications. Until then, check your current stock and see if there is anything you want to change in your daily routine. Stay healthy!

Fraudulent Mask

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Copyright © 2021 Melis Ann
Original content written by Melis Ann published only on HubPages
Any actions taken based on reading these personal opinions are not the responsibility of the author.

Comments

Melis Ann (author) from Mom On A Health Hunt on March 11, 2021:

Thanks for reading E Randall! I'm glad to hear you found the information helpful.

E Randall from United States on March 11, 2021:

Very useful information, thank you.

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