Finding the N95 mask in California during COVID, plus KN95 fakes


Health officials have urged people to remove their cloth face covers and switch to higher quality masks as the Omicron coronavirus variant is rapidly spreading across the country.

The California Department of Health, which recently extended its statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces and workplaces to February 15, updated its mask guidelines on Monday.

The agency recommends different levels of mask effectiveness for protecting people from COVID-19, with N95 masks being the most effective. KF94, KN95, double masks and adapted surgical masks are in the second stage: “more effective”. Surgical masks come third and cloth masks with three or more layers are the least effective.

The latest policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dated September 2021, recommends that N95 “surgical” respirators be given priority for health care workers and that people wear multiple-layer breathable fabric covers and a nasal wire over their mouths and nose.

However, according to a McClatchy report, many health experts agree that the general public should consider using higher quality medical masks such as the N95 and KN95 whenever possible to prevent the spread of omicrons.

Here is a summary of what we know about these masks.

What is the difference between N95 and KN95 masks?

According to 3M, a multinational that makes and sells a wide range of products, including N95 respirators, N95 and KN95 masks are pretty similar in filtering out non-oil based particles like viruses.

The two masks have the same filter performance of 95% or more. This means that both can reduce the concentration of airborne particles passing through the filter at the same speed.

The main difference between the two is where they are certified. N95 masks are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and meet US standards.

The CDC estimates that 60% of the KN95 masks sold in the US are counterfeit.

Standard KN95 masks are made in China and meet standards set by the country, according to a USA Today report. KF94 masks, also recommended by the CDPH, are made in Korea and conform to Korean standards.

These masks can fit differently for each person depending on their facial features. According to 3M, the masks are often designed to fit people with features that are common in the particular country or region.

When choosing a mask, the company recommends checking local health guidelines and mask standards wherever approved. To avoid counterfeit masks, look for NIOSH approved respirators.

Where can I get an N95 or KN95 mask?

Due to national mask requirements and the highly contagious Omicron variant, the N95 and KN95 masks can go out in some shops.

CVS is currently sold out online from its 3M Aura Respirator N95 Flat Fold Mask, but some may still be available in store depending on your location. Rite Aid does not have their Flents Protechs N95 Maxi-Mask surgical ventilator in stock, but you can sign up to receive a notification when it’s back online.

Project N95, a non-profit advocating the equitable distribution of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing to all communities, has NIOSH-approved N95 masks on its website. Prices start at $ 14.80, depending on the type and brand of mask.

You can also find KN95 masks online on Amazon.

How do I make sure my mask is not fake?

Unfortunately, due to high demand, some masks may not be legitimate or not meet the official standards of certain countries.

The CDC recommends being careful about price fluctuations on products listed as “legitimate” or “genuine” and reading reviews when purchasing masks from a third party market or unfamiliar website.

Other precautionary measures include website errors such as typos and broken links and when the masks are advertised as “unlimited stock”.

If you are in the market for an N95 mask, the CDC has some indications that it is a fake:

  • No marks on the face piece

  • No approval number (TC) on mask or headband

  • No NIOSH markings

  • NIOSH is misspelled

  • There is decoration or other material on the mask

  • Claims the mask is approved for children. NIOSH not specifically approve any type of mask for children.

  • The mask has ear loops instead of headbands

You can also check the CDC website for a list of NIOSH approved N95 face masks.

Can I reuse my N95 or KN95 masks?

Although they are designed for single use, according to experts in a Bee report, the public can wear them a few times before throwing them away. Further information on the safe reuse of N95 and KN95 masks can be found here.

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Hanh Truong is a reporter at The Sacramento Bee’s utility counter. Previously, she was a freelance education and culture journalist for PBS SoCal and music for


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