More-infectious variants of the coronavirus and new federal requirements have people rethinking the quality of their face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 until more people can be vaccinated.
Starting Feb. 2, 2021, masks are required on planes, buses, trains and all public transportation hubs in the United States.
For all of Oregon, face coverings are required for everyone 5 and older in indoor public spaces and outdoors anywhere physical distancing isn’t possible.
Not everyone needs medical-grade N95 filters, but Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage everyone not at risk to wear a face covering with at least two layers of protection when around people not in their household.
Other health experts recommend most people wear a tightly woven face covering over a disposable surgical mask.
See The Oregonian/OregonLive’s coronavirus coverage
The face coverings should be well-fitted over your nose and mouth (review the CDC’s “seal check”) and you should sanitize or wash your hands when handling masks. Do not touch the mask when wearing it.
People who have been exposed to the coronavirus, have health issues or live in areas with high transmission rates can better protect themselves and others by wearing a certified N95 mask that filters 95% of aerosols people emit when coughing, sneezing, breathing and talking.
But where can you find N95s that meet the highest standards? And how can you keep the cost down? N95 masks were about 50 cents a piece before the coronavirus pandemic, but now prices are around $2 each for KN95 masks imported from China and around $5 for a N95 mask made in the U.S. (A 3M-brand valve-less N95 respirator is $1.41 in an eight-pack at Home Depot.)
David Sugar of Ashland was part of a friend’s group email asking if anyone would like to buy N95 masks in bulk through Costco (100 masks at $3.20 each). But Sugar and his wife, Skye, already had a supply of 3M-brand filters, which they purchased when smoke blanketed Ashland two years ago.
They wear layered cloth masks with a pocket in which they insert the N95 filter when they need to go inside a public place.
A recent study of 10 types of face coverings found that cloth and blue surgical masks partially filter the small COVID-19-spreading particles known as aerosols that people emit, according to Harvard Medical School health experts.
As the number in the name indicates, N95 masks made to U.S. standards and KN95 imported from China, are intended to filter at least 95% of airborne particles.
“Actually a type of respirator, an N95 mask offers more protection than a surgical mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
While N95 and KN95 face masks were hard to get and were being reserved mostly for front-line medical workers at the beginning of the pandemic last year, supplies of these items have expanded recently and more people have been ordering them online for personal use.
Before you buy, see the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved products listed by brand and make sure the manufacturer has a NIOSH certificate.
See other federal guidance on mask standards.
The FDA has a list of non-NIOSH-approved KN95 respirator models approved for emergency use during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
N95 respirators are intended to be used once and then properly disposed of and replaced with a new N95 respirator.
Here are N95 or KN95 respirators available to purchase online right now:
BLSCode KN95 protective mask ($1.33 each if purchased in a 60-pack, individually wrapped for $79.74 through Amazon): The mask is made of two layers of non-woven cloth, two layers of melt-blown fabric and one layer of hot air cotton with an adjustable metal nose bridge wire. Read more about KN95s
Kimtech (Kimberly Clark) N95 pouch respirator ($3.99 each from Well Before): The NIOSH-certified mask has a large, duckbill-style breathing chamber and foam headband to maximize comfort. There is also a bendable nosepiece for a consistent seal.
Portland-based Protectly has U.S.-made surgical, N95 and KN95 masks by 3M, Fangtian, Moldex, 3PE and Medline with a 100% guaranteed. Take 23% off Respokare’s N95, NIOSH-approved mask at $5 each in a five- or 30-pack.
Respokare Niosh N95 respirator (10-pack for $89.99 from N95MaskCo.com): This mask design by personal protective equipment company Innonix has patented multilayer, anti-viral technology that blocks 95% of small (.3 micron) particles and is said to inactivate up to 99.9% within minutes. Also available in a 5-pack for $49.99 or a 20-pack for $179.99.
Well Before KN95 mask by the company formerly known as Honest PPE Supply: Individually wrapped, the disposable mask has a five-layer design and adjustable nosepiece. Available for $1.99 each but must be purchased in 10 packs. Kid-size masks are also available.
Now that we’ve been wearing face coverings for nearly a year, it could be time to replace masks that have been washed frequently (check manufacturers’ guidance) or don’t fit as well as they should.
Before you mask in a bandana or neck gaiter, read this: Evaluation is ongoing on the effectiveness of those types of face coverings in preventing droplets and particles from spreading the coronavirus. At the very least, double up the fabric when in poorly ventilated areas or if you’re unable to safely keep your distance from others.
Face shields, folded handkerchiefs and masks with exhalation valves or vents are also discouraged since they may not be effective enough barriers.
Layers of washable face coverings should also not be see-through.
What to use if you are not at risk? Two or more tightly woven layers of washable, breathable fabric. The mask should completely cover your nose and mouth, and it should fit snugly against the side of your face and have no gaps, says the CDC.
Here are some retailers’ reusable masks offerings:
Amazon has an ever-changing supply of washable and U.S.-made disposable protective masks. The online retailer also has antimicrobial masks and sells PM 2.5 activated carbon filter inserts (100 pack for $21.99).
American Eagle has reusable masks made with two layers and an antimicrobial finish. Youth face masks are on sale and come in a variety of prints and patterns. Twenty percent of mask sales were donated to the Crisis Text Line.
Backcountry has its own line of face masks to have handy when you pass someone on the trail. Also, men’s, women’s and kids clothing plus hiking, camping, biking, climbing, running fly-fishing and paddling gear is up to 50% off during the winter sale.
Disney has Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars character-theme face masks in small, medium and large (see measuring chart) and the company is donating one million cloth face masks for children and families in underserved and vulnerable communities across the U.S. through MedShare.
Spacemask offers three layers of antibacterial nanotech fabric yarn that is said to protect from dangerous particles, droplets, dust, smog, pollen and mold. The washable, contoured Advanced Nanotech Premium face mask is $19. The company pledges to donate 5,000 masks.
School MaskPack has color-coded, Crayola-branded reusable masks ($29.99 for a five-pack for kids, $39.99 for teens and adult sizes) that come with their own mesh laundry bag to keep them together in the washing machine. The masks have adjustable ear straps to securely fit a wide variety of face shapes and sizes. The company is donating 1% of net sales to No Kid Hungry, DonorsChoose and Heart of America.
The Gap has masks with filter pockets in adult sizes and kid-friendly ones with themes like Hello Kitty, Jurassic Park, Ninja Turtles, Justice League and Minions (3-pack starts at $5). The company pledges to give away 50,000 masks to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Canada.
The Odells has handmade, washable masks in adult and kid sizes made of a cotton blend with adjustable, behind-the-ear straps with an interior pocket sized to fit a PM2.5 filter ($10). Each mask sold supports 10 meals for hungry children and adults.
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072