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With the insurgence of the Omnicron variant, it appears the coronavirus is here to stay -- as will face masks. While the nationwide distribution of vaccines, including boosters, continues to help reduce the impact of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are still urging people to wear face masks to stop the spread. And now, there's never been a greater need to use clinically-certified masks (N95, KN95, KF94) as opposed to cloth ones, as the latter lacks the filtration necessary to block out droplets and other bacterial substances from those around you.
Fortunately, this is year three of the pandemic. Gone are the days when people would scramble to their local pharmacies in hopes of snagging the last stock of masks and, worst yet, resell them at inflated prices. Today you can find high-quality masks online that are proven to help keep you and your loved ones safe from contagious diseases.
Here is a thoughtfully curated list of face masks and face coverings that are professionally-tested, effective in avoiding COVID, and available to buy right now.
KN95 face masks are usually tighter on the face than the standard medical ones, but these by WWDOLL provide just enough curvature to wrap comfortably around your mouth, and hang securely on your ears. They're on FDA's Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) list and make for a safe pick if you plan to travel out.
VIDA is best known for art-inspired clothes and accessories, but the company has found a footing this past year developing reliable and recyclable face masks. This entry, the KN95 model, is FDA-listed, can be purchased in bulks (up to 1,000), and sits restfully on the face. The starting price is $25 for a pack of 10.
Like the KN95 offerings, VIDA has designed KF94 masks that provide a filtration efficiency of more than 94%. The mask is four-layered, FDA-listed, CE-certified, and manufactured in South Korea, which arguably holds the best high-protection mask technology. The KF94s come in six colors and a 10-pack can be had for $25 shipped.
3M remains a top pick when it comes to respirators and the Aura model proves why. To start, the mask has a flat-fold design which allows it to fit a wide range of face shapes and sizes. Glasses-wearers, like myself, can rejoice as the 3M Aura also features a front-facing filtration duct that reduces eyewear fogging. A pack of 10 sells for $21.47.
You can also find these affordable multi-packs of KN95 masks on Amazon. BLScode offers five-ply cloth and cotton masks that include layers for improved breathing and moisture absorption. Each mask is individually wrapped and includes an adjustable metal nose clip for extra comfort.
Available in 100-count boxes, Amazon's disposable face masks are not as protective as some of the other options on our list but are more affordable. Each mask features a three-ply filter, stretchable ear rings, and a sturdy nose clip that bends to the curve of your nose.
When you only have access to cloth or surgical masks, double-masking can help. The AIRism mask from UNIQLO makes for a burdenless secondary mask thanks to its air-light design and moisture-resistant fabric. It's also machine-washable and sits well on the faces of kids, teenagers, and adults. A pack of three sells for $14.90.
If you're looking for something that you could wear for work and also while out for a run during lunch, Under Armour has made a mask just for you. It's built for professionals who are always on the move. It stays cool while you exercise, plus the mask sits up off of your lips for added comfort, and it comes in six colors. You can pick up one for $25.
N95, KN95, KF94, what exactly do these letters and numbers mean? Here's the definition of each, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, which will help you better understand the benefits of each.
N95: Typically the most expensive and made in the US, N95 masks filter up to 95% of particles in the air when approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). These respirators tend to fit the tightest on the face, making them very effective in crowded and COVID-prevalent areas like hospitals.
KN95: Imported from China, the KN95 is the international equivalent of the N95 masks from the US. Due to its looser fit, KN95 respirators are better suited for adults than children -- who are prone to touching their masks and breaking the seal around the nose and mouth. The certification process of KN95s is nearly identical to N95s, though the CDC does suggest using the latter for its tighter and secure fit.
KF94: Imported from Korea, KF94 respirators are regarded as the most comfortable of the three thanks to its unique form-fitting shape. The masks meet the Korean standard requirements with a 94% filtration efficacy. And while the 94% is less than the 95% of the N95 and KN95, the truth of which masks will protect you better comes down to one with the best fit.
You can learn more about the different types of masks and respirators here.
Do I need to wear a mask if I am vaccinated?
Vaccines are scientifically-proven to be the best way to protect yourself from catching COVID. Still, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask or face covering even if you've taken the vaccine -- booster included. The main reason for this is the widespread nature of the recent Omicron variant, which is strong enough to evade vaccinated hosts. However, that doesn't render vaccines useless as they are still effective in preventing and reducing the symptoms of COVID.
Whether you're wearing an N95, KN95, KF94, or a cloth mask, having one is better than none.
How do I properly wear a face mask?
While the concept of a face mask is rather straightforward, the proper way to wear one does require a few steps more than looping it from ear to ear.
To start, you should always wash and sanitize your hands before and after you touch your mask.
When putting the mask on, do so by only touching the ear loops and bands. This prevents any germs from getting on the actual covering itself.
For a proper fit, the mask should cover your nose, mouth, and chin -- nothing less.
Lastly, pinch the nose band so that the mask contours the curvature of your nose. If done properly, there should be little to no air seeping out the sides and of the mask when you talk.
A slight discomfort is normal when wearing a mask.
Unless noted as reusable, you should always dispose your mask after a day's use, especially if it's damaged or visibly dirty.
Still looking for a face mask to buy online? Try ProjectN95, a certified reseller that provides NIOSH- and FDA-approved respirators.