Read before you buy: How to tell if your N95 mask is fake

Health

Protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2020. (Eva Hambach / AFP / Getty)

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (WIVT/WJW) — The CDC is reportedly considering an official recommendation that Americans wear higher quality masks—specifically KN95s and N95s—amid the omicron surge. And even without official word, some are opting to level up their face mask, but many claiming to be N95s or KN95s aren’t genuine.

In the U.S., the CDC reports that 60% of KN95s—a version of N95 masks made in China—are fake. Variety means that the marketplace can get confusing when trying to figure out which masks are the real deal. Authentic N95s must be National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved and will come with that certification. KN95 masks are not approved by NIOSH, so legitimate KN95 masks do not include a NIOSH-approved stamp or claim.

As outlined by the Cleveland Clinic, cloth masks don’t do much to protect users from inhaling particles that carry the virus. According to the CDC, tight-fitting masks like N95 and KN95 respirators are designed to protect the people wearing them from particles, including the virus that causes COVID. At the same time, they protect others from the wearer’s respiratory droplets and particles.

Some respirators are tested to meet international health standards and are labeled to tell users what standard they meet. The most widely available respirators that meet international standards are KN95s, according to the CDC. But others go a step further and also meet a specific U.S. standard that includes a quality requirement through the NIOSH. Those include the N95 respirators.

The CDC recommends that specially labeled “surgical” N95s be prioritized for healthcare workers. “It’s really best to find a mask that has been approved by a regulating body,” said the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Steven Gordon. “But the truth is that at the end of the day, any mask that fits closely to the face is better than a mask that doesn’t.”

The CDC warns that some counterfeit respirators are products that are falsely marketed and sold as being NIOSH-approved. They may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection, according to the CDC. NIOSH-approved respirators, like N95 masks, will have an approval label on or within the packaging of the respirator. An abbreviated approval is also on the respirator.

The most common pitfall scenarios, according to the CDC, occur because:

  • Documents are altered so mask models appear to comply with a particular standard, but they do not
  • Certification marks are counterfeit
  • Manufacturers’ names, logos, and model numbers are counterfeit

The CDC sent out some pointers for finding out if a respirator is counterfeit:

  • There are no markings at all on the filtering facemask
  • No approval (TC) number on the facepiece or headband
  • No NIOSH markings on N95 masks
  • NIOSH is spelled wrong on N95 masks
  • Decorative fabric or other add-ons (like sequins)
  • Claims of approval for kids (NIOSH doesn’t approve respiratory protection for kids)
  • The mask has ear loops instead of headbands

If you want to order these masks online, the CDC has more information before buying:

  • Read the reviews and check out the seller
  • Legitimate business suppliers generally sell the same or similar products over time
  • Check for extreme price changes or swings
  • Examine inventory numbers, and beware of “unlimited stock”
  • Seller contact information should be easily available
  • Check the website for errors and typos
  • Is the primary contact email address connected to the website or do they use a free account?
  • Watch for errors, like mixed up names or logos, unfinished pages,odd privacy policies, or broken links

Still unsure? Visit the CDC’s website for pictures and examples of counterfeit masks.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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