Some manufacturers can't get their masks into the hands of healthcare workers, so they're hoping you'll buy them instead.
With tens of thousands of coronavirus cases being reported each day in the U.S., it’s still important that everyone wear a face covering in public (and even double up). Some Americans opt for the simple, disposable surgical mask, while others prefer more fashion-forward or sporty options. Whatever your choice, experts still agree that the N95 respirator mask is the most effective when it comes to preventing the spread of coronavirus.
However, because legitimate N95 masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have been in short supply, they’re still reserved mostly for healthcare workers.
But a major hurdle stands in the way of several N95 manufacturers: They can’t sell their inventory due to the “ingrained purchasing habits of hospital systems, medical supply distributors and state governments,” The New York Times reports.
In other words, some small N95 mask manufacturers in the U.S. are in danger of going under because they can’t secure large-scale contracts with hospitals. They have thousands of masks sitting in warehouses with no one to buy them. So they’re opening up the opportunity to everyday consumers instead.
The problem? Most people don’t know where to look online for legitimate N95 masks, such as a manufacturer or distributor website, or how to weed out the fakes on online marketplaces. A search on Amazon, for instance, turns up KN95 masks, which some researchers don’t consider to be as effective as N95s, and products described as N95s that aren’t actually listed on the NIOSH website.
That doesn’t mean legitimate N95 masks aren’t out there ― you just need to know where to look.
So where can you purchase authentic N95 masks? Below are several options you can try that come straight from the manufacturers. Note that the models and prices vary quite a bit.
Bielcorp: This company manufactures a few different NIOSH-certified N95 respirator models. You can currently purchase a 20-pack of the B201 model for $27.99 ($1.40 per mask). The company’s other N95 models are sold out right now.
Demetech: The Florida-based medical device manufacturer makes NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks for sale on its website, available to all consumers. Pick up a pack of 20 folding-style masks for $75 ($3.75 per mask).
Protective Health Gear: PHG is an American manufacturer of NIOSH-approved N95 disposable respirators. You can buy a box of 50 of their model 5160 N95 masks for $199 ($3.98 per mask).
Readimask: These strapless N95 masks from Global Safety First are produced by Avery Dennison Medical and are NIOSH compliant. They come in small, large and extra-large, though some models are out of stock on their website. Single-use masks range from $6.99 to $8.99 each, while a 10-pack runs from $44.90 to $59.90 ($4.49 to $5.99 per mask).
United States Mask: You can purchase a box of 20 N95 masks for $44.95 ($2.25 per mask) or a case of 540 for $849.95 ($1.57 per mask). The company also has 16-case pallets for sale, though the average person probably isn’t looking to drop $12,528 on face masks despite the bulk discount.
Even if a medical supplier’s website seems legit ― maybe it even displays the NIOSH logo ― it doesn’t necessarily mean that its N95 masks are compliant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of a few signs that a mask may be fake. For one, any decorative add-ons, such as sequins, are a big red flag, as are any claims that a certain mask has been approved for children. If the packaging includes claims that a product is “legitimate” or “genuine,” it most likely is not.
Before buying an N95 mask, look it up on the NIOSH website, which maintains a list of approved N95 manufacturers. Every N95 mask for sale should have a NIOSH approval number that’s also printed directly on the mask.
Other markings should include the model number; filter class and efficiency level; brand name, trademark or easily understandable abbreviation; NIOSH logo or name in block letters; and potentially a lot number, which is recommended but not required. Some manufacturers, including 3M, offer suggestions for spotting counterfeit copies of their own products and ways to verify lot codes on packaging.
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