Find a high quality mask

As masking requirements begin to ease in Massachusetts, many people will still choose to mask up in certain places and situations. Although the City of Cambridge’s mask requirement for indoor public places ends on March 13, 2022, masks will continue to be mandatory on public and private transport, as well as in healthcare facilities and other specified environments ( click on here for current Massachusetts mask requirements).

Over time, the virus that causes COVID-19 has become more contagious. That’s why the Cambridge Public Health Department recommends residents use high-quality masks when masking up indoors. These masks, also called “high filtration” masks, block the virus much better than cloth or even surgical masks. Layers of filter material trap at least 94-95% of virus particles.
High-filtration masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so it’s a good idea to try out different types and brands to see what’s most comfortable and fits your face best.

A high filtration mask can be worn for about 40 hours in total, for short or long periods of time, as long as the mask stays clean and continues to fit snugly on your face.

Here’s a quick guide that explains the three most common types of high-filtration masks, where to buy them, and what to look for.

n95 mask

What is that: N95 masks filter 95% of virus particles. Masks are strictly regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the CDC.

Benefits: When worn consistently and correctly, N95 masks provide the highest level of protection against virus particles, according to the CDC.

Disadvantages: Wearing an N95 mask can make it harder to breathe. Masks are not available in child sizes. Fake N95s are falsely marketed and sold as NIOSH approved.

Or buy:

  • Project N95 is a non-profit organization that sells a variety of N95 masks through its website and offers a guide to help people choose the style of N95 mask that suits them best. The N95 Project also sells a smaller selection of KF94 and surgical masks, as well as KN95 masks for children.
  • Trusted local retailers as well as major chain stores that typically work directly with NIOSH-approved manufacturers, so you can be sure the N95 masks you’re buying aren’t counterfeits.

What to look for:

  • If an N95 mask has ear loops, it’s probably a fake. Almost all N95 masks have two elastic straps that wrap behind your head.
  • Mask does not have all required label markings printed on it, such as company name, model number, and NIOSH. look at this CDC Guide to Identifying Label Markings.
    NIOSH is misspelled.
  • The mask has decorative fabric or sequins.
  • Claims to approve for children.
  • For more tips, see this CDC guide to spotting fake N95s and that CDC list of fake N95s.

KN95 Mask

What is that: The KN95 is a high filtration mask designed to meet Chinese standards for medical masks.

Benefits: KN95s have ear loops instead of headbands, which many people find more comfortable. They are also available in children’s sizes.

Disadvantages: There are many counterfeit KN95 masks on the market and little regulation or oversight of the product, according to The New York Times.

What to look for: A genuine KN95 should be stamped with text, including the manufacturer’s name, model and “GB2626-2019,” which refers to a quality control standard approved by the Chinese government, according to The New York Times.

Or buy:

  • Good Faith Masks is the exclusive U.S. distributor of the Chinese-made Powecom KN95 mask. The company also sells N95, KN95 masks for children, as well as surgical masks.

KF94 mask

What is that: A KF94 is a Korean-made mask that filters out at least 94% of virus particles.

Benefits: Many people find that the design of the KF94 mask makes it easier to speak and breathe compared to other high filtration masks because there is more space between the mask and the mouth. The mask has ear loops, a moldable nose bridge (similar to N95 and KN95) and an additional flap that covers the chin. They are available in adult and child sizes.

The South Korean government strictly monitors the production and approval of masks, and there seem to be fewer counterfeits on the market compared to N95 and KN95.

What to look for:

  • The KF94 will not be stamped with text, but the packaging must state “Made in Korea” and include the product name, manufacturer, and distributor name.
  • Each mask should be individually wrapped in a flat, glossy rectangular package with a textured border.
  • The package will also have an expiration date and lot number printed on it. If you’re buying a KF94 from Amazon, carefully examine the packaging to make sure it’s made in Korea and includes the required labeling.
  • If your mask is from a Korean importer, the packaging information will be in Korean, but many companies have started creating packaging in English, according to The New York Times.

Or buy:

Other resources:

  • Aaron Collins, an engineer, who has been testing masks throughout the pandemic, is a trusted source of information for families in Cambridge and across the country. Collins shares his findings with the public through his Twitter feedhis Youtube channel and his spreadsheet of almost 450 different masks and how they performed in its tests. In the rightmost column of his spreadsheet, he lists trusted vendors for many masks. It also has a list of masks for children that he tested and a video for parents on finding high quality face masks for kids.
  • Additional information on mask tips and best practices can be found hereand you can watch this video to learn more.

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