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The COVID-19 Omicron variant is currently surging across the country, with case numbers reaching an all-time high and many hospitals seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases — and filling up fast. Masking up at the grocery stores, in restaurants, and in public is especially important, as healthcare workers are overwhelmed with the influx of patients with the highly contagious strain.
The CDC recently updated its guidelines to note that cloth masks do not protect against the virus as effectively as other masks. They recommend KN95 or N95 masks over cloth or surgical masks, but what’s the difference? KN95 or N95 are both rated to capture 95 percent of particles, but the main difference between the two is certification. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: N95 masks are made in the US to adhere to the US standard, and KN95 masks are made abroad in China, adhering to their standards.
Read More: The Best KN95 Masks
“In terms of features, the CDC says the N95 is ideal because they seal more tightly around the face and they filter up to 95% of particles in the air,” Lexie Sachsa member of ASTM International’s committee for PPE, tells Good Housekeeping. “The secure fit is especially important because other masks can have an air leak around the edges.”
N95 masks must pass a rigorous inspection and certification process from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), while companies making KN95 masks must seek approval from the FDA through an emergency authorization for a foreign certification indicating that the mask meets the 95 percent filtration requirement.
The CDC recently warned that counterfeit N95 respirators falsely claiming to be NIOSH-approved are flooding the market lately, and therefore will not effectively protect you from COVID-19 spread. To make sure the N95 you’re buying is legit, check that it has an approval label with a number that starts with TC and is followed by seven digits (compare it to this CDC graphic) and verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List to make sure it’s legit. A quick way to tell if the N95 is fake is by looking at the straps: legitimate N95s feature head straps, not ear loops.
Read More: Why Cloth Masks Won’t Cut It Against the Omicron Variant
Reputable, familiar brands like 3M, Honeywell or Kimberly-Clark have been approved by NIOSH to manufacture N95s during the pandemic. International retailers selling N95s that claim to be NIOSH-approved may say they have NIOSH certification, but you’ll want to check the CDC’s list of NIOSH-approved N95 respirators by the manufacturer if you’re unsure.
Below, we’ve rounded up a list of the best N95 masks for COVID — all NIOSH-approved.
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Professional N95 Pouch Respirator
Kimberly-Clark is a trusted brand in healthcare, so you know these masks are the real deal. Each mask provides a minimum of 95% filtration efficiency of 0.3-micron particles. (The Covid particle is around 0.1 microns in size, but it is always bonded to something larger.)
Surgical N95 Respirator
If you’re searching for the best N95 masks on Amazon and you recognize the brand name, that’s usually a pretty good sign that the mask is up to snuff. Honeywell’s masks are made of a lightweight construction that conforms to the face while minimizing pressure points.
N95 Respirator Face Mask
This N95 mask comes with a padded nose-piece for increased comfort and a latex-free headband. The approval number is stamped right onto the mask, so you or others never have to doubt its legitimacy.
HDX Disposable N95 Face Mask
Omicron does not stand a chance against these masks from Home Depot. Durable yet comfortable, these N95s also have an adjustable nosepiece and secured head straps to provide a proper fit.
Although not made in the US, these masks do have proper certification from NIOSH for at least 95 percent filtration efficiency. All-around facial protection helps prevent leaks from the sides.
N95 Personal Protective Equipment Particulate Respirator
Another well-known brand you can trust to manufacture authentic N95s is 3M. These masks have a two-strap design with welded dual point attachment, which provides a secure seal around the mouth and nose.
Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ N95
Same trusted brand in a different style. This one features a curved, low-profile design that conforms well to nose and eye contours, allowing more room for eyewear. No foggy glasses, here.
NIOSH N95 Respirator Face Mask
These American-made N95s are made with five layers of protection, and the filtration layer filters more than 98 percent of airborne particles. These max are also breathable, with an exhalation resistance rate is less than 35 mm H2O, and the inhalation resistance rate is less than 25 mm H2O.
Performance Respirator 2-Pack Disposable N95
Even after two years of wearing masks on a near-daily basis, sometimes it just slips your mind to grab one before heading out the door. This pack of two N95 masks is great to keep in the car or in your travel bag — just in case.
NIOSH and FDA Authorized N95 Mask
Vida was originally founded as an apparel, accessories, and homewares brand, but pivoted to mask-making earlier in the pandemic. The latest addition is a three-layer N95 mask in a gorgeous blue / green hue, and approved by NIOSH. When you’re done using the N95, just send it back to Vida, courtesy of a pre-paid label included in your original package. They’ll decontaminate and separate the materials, which are then recycled into industrial products like shipping pallets.
N95 Medical Respirator Mask
This mask meets the GB 19083-2010 Standard for a protective respirator for medical use for filtration efficiency greater than 95 percent. This means that the range of particle filtration that the mask is over the 95 percent NIOSH requires and can range anywhere from 95 to 98 percent.
Flat Fold N95 NIOSH Approved Respirator
Like all N95s, this one from Project N95 sits snug against the face and features a 95 percent filtration efficiency against solid and liquid aerosols. Each mask is individually wrapped, so it’s easy to grab one and hold onto it until you need it.
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