According to the CDC, the most effective mask to protect against COVID-19 is a NIOSH-approved respirator such as the N95. N95 respirators provide better protection against COVID-19 than other masks on the market and can filter 95% of airborne particles. When manufactured to Korean government standards and worn correctly, the KF94 mask filters out up to 94% of particles.
Authentic N95 masks are so named because, when properly fitted, they filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. N95 masks do not protect against gases, vapours, and cannot be used on asbestos or supply oxygen. KN95 masks are designed to provide protection similar to the N95 respirator, which is regulated by the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). When worn properly, these disposable respirators provide a full face covering, have two straps that attach around the neck and back of the head to lock the respirator in place, and most importantly, have been tested and certified by the National Institute. Health and Safety (NIOSH), a division of the CDC.
Where supplies are available, people may wear simple N95 disposable respirators for personal use in some cases instead of cloth face coverings. You can buy respirators at your local hardware store (avoid those with exhalation valves or vents). If you have ever used a respirator that fits you (think there is no gap), NIOSH recommends that you look for a mask of the same make, model and size if possible. Given the current state of the pandemic, “any mask is better than no mask at all,” the CDC says, so finding something that works for you and always wears in public is critical.
While respirators were in short supply early in the pandemic, they were easier to find in stores and online; just make sure yours meet the advertised standards. Since we don’t test masks ourselves, we asked medical experts about who should use N95 masks, when to wear them, and how to find and buy them. On Jan. 14, the agency released more details about the differences between masks and confirmed that some masks, such as N95 masks, provide better protection than others, such as cloth and surgical masks. Since then, supplies have stabilized, but many Americans continue to wear cloth or more fragile surgical masks instead of N95 or KN95 respirators.
If you don’t have access to a KN95 or N95 mask, we recommend choosing a multi-layered mask with a nasal thread that can be wrapped around the nose to prevent air leakage. Given the CDC’s emphasis on proper fit, you’ll be pleased to hear that the agency has also posted more information to the public about choosing the best N95 and KN95 goggles, as well as practical tips for improving the fit of your goggles. The CDC offers additional guidance on mask use to slow the spread of COVID-19.