MICHIGAN — Two years into the pandemic, it is a lot easier to get your hands on a good, quality face mask than it was when COVID-19 first broke out. Hospital grade N95 masks are now not only available to hospital workers, but the federal government is sending out 400 million to pharmacies and community health centers nationwide for everyone to be protected against Omicron.
An N95 mask provides the highest level of protection against the newest variant and is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It is recommended individuals use N95 masks without a square valve even though it may be the more comfortable version, typically used in construction or by painters.
But a KN95 mask is not far behind in protection. It also provides a high level of protection, the biggest difference being that these masks are not certified in the U.S. but by Chinese Health officials.
Then there are the surgical masks you see daily in the lobbies of businesses and the entrances of grocery stores. Those provide some protection, but are not as enclosed as the N95's or KN95's.
“I think a K95 is quite a bit better than a regular facemask. And then the N95 is really the hospital grade...the occupational grade filtration, that's great," Dr. Andrew Jameson, Chief of Infectious Diseases and Medical Director of Infection Control at Mercy Health said. "And I think that people using K95’s, they probably don't need N95’s in most settings.”
Jameson says cloth masks however, shouldn't even be in the conversation anymore.
"I think that it is very, very well established now that people should be getting rid of their cloth masks," he said. "I think that with Omicron and how infectious it is...how quick it is to transmit, I don't think there's a role anymore for cloth masks.”
And because N95's are now shown to provide the highest protection, scammers are making counterfeits to cash in on all the demand.
Here's how you can spot a fake:
- A real N95 will have certification from NIOSH right on the mask. Watch for misspellings, as counterfeits will rearrange the letters, or not have the letters on the mask at all
- Real N95's will include a testing number unique to your mask right on the mask and the packaging you receive it in
- The manufacturer who made the mask should also have a label right on the mask, if any of this is missing, you are purchasing a counterfeit that doesn't provide true protection
- Real 95's will also almost always have two headbands instead of loops around the ear
Soon, many pharmacies will be providing N95's free of charge once the federal government has distributed the 400 million masks. But you can already pick up free KN95's, very similar to the N95's at local health departments and community centers.
The Kent County Health Department says they've already distributed over a million KN95's. Residents can continue picking those up free of charge in the main lobby of the health department during regular business hours. The Grand Rapids Public Library also offers free KN95's at all of their locations. Residents can grab up to 10 masks at a time.