Given that the new Omicron variant is even more contagious, consumers are looking for masks that offer them better protection. Cloth masks are less effective at slowing the spread of Omicron, according to health experts. But finding genuine masks is becoming a problem.
The popular KN95 and N95 are sophisticated medical masks or “respirators” that form a tight seal around the face and claim to filter out around 95 per cent of particles in the air.
But the KN95s are manufactured in China also receive a different level of certification requirements than the US-made N95s, which have to meet standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recently estimated that around 60 per cent of KN95s in the US are counterfeit, these are most likely to be sold by unofficial sources online, including individual sellers on marketplaces, but they could appear in more official places too.
“There are some nonprofits out there who have very good intentions, but are collecting respirators from donors and distributing them to healthcare organisations who may have respirator shortages,” stated Maryann D'Alessandro, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH).
NIOSH has offered guidelines and example pictures of how to spot counterfeit masks.
It states that a fake might have no markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator, it may also have no approval (TC) number on the filtering face piece respirator or headband. It won’t have any NIOSH markings either, or NIOSH will be spelt incorrectly. It may have decorative fabric or other add-ons (sequins etc). If the mask claims it’s approved for use for children it’s fake (NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children). Also, look out for if the filtering face piece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands.
The way to identify a genuine NIOSH-approved mask is if it has a registered trademark, if it has a NIOSH approval number on the respirator or strap of the mask, if you see the NIOSH name correctly spelt on the mask. A genuine mask will also have a filter class or filter efficiency on it, plus a model number and possibly a lot number.
The CDC recommends that people over the age of two wear masks in all indoor public places.