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Masks are as important as ever to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, thanks to the rise of the highly infectious Omicron variant. And, while you might have tossed your old masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that all Americans — regardless of vaccination status — mask up indoors where there is substantial risk or high spread of COVID-19.
Still, it's tough to know which masks are the most effective.
We’re not talking about the cute fabric masks emblazoned with the name of your favorite band. We’re talking about KN95 masks — the ones the CDC specifically recommends you wear in high-risk situations (say, on public transportation) to protect from possible transmission. Powecom is one of the only masks recommended by the FDA, and they're $38 for 20 at Amazon.
And if you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping, of course. Not yet a member? No problem. You can sign up for your free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)
Does the brand matter? Yes, according to the FDA, it does. Read more on this below.
Understanding the N95 / KN95 connection
KN95 masks are very similar to N-95 masks, which are one step up from KN95s, Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. In fact, during the early days of the pandemic when medical-grade masks were in particularly short supply, the FDA granted what’s known as ‘emergency use authorization’ for KN95 masks — meaning they could be used in hospitals.
But not all brands of KN95 masks are created equal. Recently, after researching effectiveness, the FDA removed its emergency use authorization for several manufacturers of KN95 masks. Powecom masks made it through the tests. They’re approved by the FDA and officially included on the FDA Emergency Use Authorization List. Like the others on the list, the Powecom KN95 mask is confirmed to filter out 95 percent of particles or more.
Not sure where to look? “If your source for a KN95 mask is reliable, you should be fine,” explains Dr. Schaffner. The good ones are “comparable to the N95 masks that we use,” he says.
“The basic difference [between N95 and KN95 masks] is regulatory,” says Dr. Kavita Patel, managing director of clinical transformation at The Brookings Institution’s Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform. “KN95 masks are approved by Chinese regulators, and in theory they are similar to N95 masks, which are approved by the FDA — but are also likely to be manufactured in China.”
Do you need to wear a Powecom KN95 mask all the time?
Our experts tell Yahoo Life that three-ply disposable masks or cloth masks should do the job when you’re outdoors and keeping at least six feet away from others. But KN95 masks by Powecom offer more protection and are protective in riskier situations — if you’re flying, for example, or taking a bus or train.
These masks have a three-dimensional design that makes it easier to breathe if you need to keep your mask on for long periods. Made of soft cotton, the masks have elastic ear loops and a metal strip for a snug fit over the nose.
Keep in mind that wearing a mask doesn’t mean you should stop practicing known methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Getting vaccinated and boosted, social distancing and frequent, thorough hand-washing are critical. Explains Dr. Schaffner, “We do these things in combination, not in isolation.”
KN95 masks that are approved with the FDA’s emergency-use authorization are actually hard to find these days. So stick with best practices and secure some Powecom KN95 masks for higher-risk settings. You’ll be taking great care of yourself and others.
Amazon shoppers love them, too
One diligent shopper personally checked to see if these masks were FDA-certified, writing: "This product has very strong procedures to authenticate the product. You can be absolutely certain that this product is on the FDA list and that it is not a fake. I went directly to the FDA website and verified that Powecom was an approved manufacturer. When the product arrived I went directly to the Powecom website to authenticate the product. On the the product packaging you can reveal a 20 digit number, the same way you scratch a lottery ticket. I entered the 20 digit number and confirmed that it was authentic. I entered the exact same number a second time, and I was told that the number was valid but it had been entered previously. I guessed several 20 digit numbers, all of which identified as invalid."
Another shared: "This is a great fitting mask for various face sizes, and I feel like it breathes well while still offering the protection we need. I have a pretty tiny face, and my husband's is more like a normal adult, and the mask fits both of us well. The straps do start to hurt the backs of your ears after a while, but I have worn this mask for nearly the entire day while traveling without too much discomfort."
This five-star reviewer says that these masks have been their only choice throughout the pandemic: "I’ve worn these since the beginning I of the Covid-19 lockdowns. I wear them everywhere, and they have kept me safe over the last year. I live in a place where the cases are continuing to rise, and it’s comforting to know that I’m well-protected."
Want to check out your options? Here are other excellent KN95 masks available:
These three-dimensional versions are thick and durable, and you get five for just $14.
“I feel so much safer with this over a basic cloth face mask,” says a shopper. “My intended purpose was to wear these exclusively when I go grocery shopping and run other errands where I know I will be in close proximity to other people, but have found myself just wearing it everywhere I go. Happy with this purchase.”
Want to buy in bulk and eliminate the stress of restocking? This 50-pack is for you. Each mask has a roomy breathing area, a metal nose bridge for a snug fit, and folds for easy storage.
“Tested masks in heavy smoke of CA fires — they do not let any smoke smell in, which is a great test, because smoke is the smallest particle and only N95s work for it. At the same time, they allow easy breathing,” says a satisfied shopper.
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