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Where can I find high-quality masks? How can I be certain they are not counterfeit?

The surge of Omicron cases has seen a new focus on the more protective N95 and KN95 respirators but there is concern that fake versions are being sold online.

The surge of Omicron cases has seen a new focus on the more protective N95 and KN95 respirators but there is concern that fake versions are being sold online.

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask-wearing guidance to suggest that a specific type of face covering is the most effective, breaking from the agency's policy throughout the pandemic.

The CDC said that individuals "may choose" to wear either a N95 or KN95 mask on the basis that they offer the best protection against covid-19. A statement from the agency said that the CDC “continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently."

The N95 or KN95 were not initially recommended for the general population due to fears that increased demand for the more protective masks would reduce their availability for healthcare workers. Now that the higher-quality masks are recommended, how can you pick up a N95 or KN95 mask?

Government has purchased N95 masks for all Americans

After the Omicron variant fuelled a surge of covid-19 cases across the holiday period the White House has been eager to introduce new initiatives to keep Americans safe for the remainder of the winter months.

That effort involved the distribution of free at-home covid-19 tests for each household and the purchase of 400 million high-quality N95 masks, to be made available for free for Americans. The vital resources are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile and will be sent out to pharmacies and community health services to handle the distribution at a local level.

On Monday a White House official told CNN: "Last week masks began shipping and arriving at pharmacies and grocers around (the) country. We expect that throughout the week the number of stores and N95s arriving to scale up significantly.”

Up to three of the free masks will be made available “to every person in the US,” according to an accompanying flyer. The first batch of masks arrived at suppliers in the Midwest last Friday, while Southeastern and other locations will receive theirs later this week.

For more information on how to pick up your free masks, head down to your local health centre and they will be able to advise you on the nearest distribution point in your area.

How to spot a counterfeit N95 of KN95 mask

The free masks offered as part of the government programme will be a relief for many but the complimentary respirators will not last forever and you will need to find another supplier. It can be difficult to know which masks are legit, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) does advise users on what to do.

NIOSH is the agency in charge of regulating respirators in the US and they offer useful advice on what to what out for when buying face masks. Each mask should have an abbreviated label on the respirator itself with the following information listed clearly.

All N95 and KN95 masks should have...

  • Name or logo of the approval holder
  • TC Approval Number – in the format TC-84A-XXXX
  • Model or part number
  • Protection rating – NIOSH follows the alpha-numerical rating system (N95, KN95, N99, etc…)
  • NIOSH, in block capital letters

Counterfeit N95 masks will not have undergone the stringent testing and evaluation process required to ensure that the user is properly protected. As concerns about Omicron have risen in recent weeks numerous reports suggest that there are huge numbers of counterfeit respirators being sold online to unsuspecting individuals.