The 13 Best N95 Masks to Protect Against the Omicron Variant
The Covid-19 Omicron variant is currently surging across the country, with case numbers reaching an all-time high and many hospitals seeing record numbers of Covid-19 cases—and filling up fast. Masking up at the grocery stores, in restaurants, and in public is especially important, as healthcare workers are overwhelmed with the influx of patients with the highly contagious strain.
The CDC recently updated its guidelines to note that cloth masks do not protect against the virus as effectively as other masks. They recommend KN95 or N95 masks over cloth or surgical masks, but what's the difference? KN95 or N95 are both rated to capture 95 percent of particles, but the main difference between the two is certification. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: N95 masks are made in the U.S to adhere to the U.S. standard, and KN95 masks are made abroad in China, adhering to their standards.
“In terms of features, the CDC says the N95 is ideal because they seal more tightly around the face and they filter up to 95% of particles in the air,” Lexie Sachs, a member of ASTM International's committee for PPE, tells Good Housekeeping. “The secure fit is especially important because other masks can have an air leak around the edges.”
N95 masks must pass a rigorous inspection and certification process from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), while companies making KN95 masks must seek approval from the FDA through an emergency authorization for a foreign certification indicating that the mask meets the 95 percent filtration requirement.
The CDC recently warned that counterfeit N95 respirators falsely claiming to be NIOSH-approved are flooding the market lately, and therefore won't effectively protect you from Covid-19 spread. To make sure the N95 you're buying is legit, check that it has an approval label with a number that starts with TC and is followed by seven digits (compare it to this CDC graphic) and verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List to make sure it’s legit. A quick way to tell if the N95 is fake is by looking at the straps: legitimate N95s feature head straps, not ear loops.
Read More: Best KN95 Masks
Reputable, familiar brands like 3M, Honeywell or Kimberly-Clark have been approved by NIOSH to manufacture N95s during the pandemic. International retailers selling N95s that claim to be NIOSH-approved may say they have NIOSH certification, but you'll want to check the CDC’s list of NIOSH-approved N95 respirators by the manufacturer if you're unsure.
Below, we've rounded up a list of the best N95 masks for Covid—all NIOSH-approved.
The Covid-19 Omicron variant is currently surging across the country, so it's time to upgrade that mask. Here, we've rounded up the best N95 masks.