Just think … a few short months ago, you could count on one hand the number of Americans who knew what “N95” meant. Their first guess would have probably been a new virtual reality gaming console.
Flash forward to today and N95 masks are even more valuable than hastily-hoarded toilet paper. If only you could make effective masks out of toilet paper … wouldn’t that be something?
Alas, no—toilet paper, along with most kinds of paper, makes poor protection in the current medical landscape. The paper masks turning up on the shelves of dollar stores and gas stations don’t do much to protect the wearer from infection with the new coronavirus that causes the dangerous respiratory disease COVID-19, which has swept the globe into pandemic conditions and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Ditto cloth masks and bandanas.
These paper and cloth masks do serve a purpose. The new coronavirus travels from person to person in respiratory droplets, exuded by infected carriers when they cough, sneeze, talk, or breathe heavily. Paper and cloth masks absorb an appreciable percentage of the water droplets you exhale, preventing them from entering the environment and finding their way to a non-infected set of lungs.
Since the disease can be spread by infected carriers who don’t show symptoms, the spread would be significantly slowed if everyone who was asymptomatic wore a cloth or paper mask, since we would encounter far fewer exhaled water droplets in our daily lives.
But what if we want to protect ourselves, on a bus or train or airplane, in a grocery store or office? Is there any mask we can wear that will keep us from catching COVID-19? While a cloth or paper mask might protect those around you, they don’t protect you from the aspirated water droplets that might have made it into the air, and which might carry the new coronavirus.
For that kind of protection, you need an N95 mask. Home Depot and Lowe’s used to stock them for people who work with fumes, mold, and asbestos, but now they sell out as soon as they hit the shelves … or they donated the supply to first responders and ICUs.
There’s even a robust debate as to whether or not it’s ethical for these filter-enabled masks to be in the hands of civilians when they could be on the faces of front-line healthcare workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which begs the question … can I even get an N95 or equivalent mask in the US? If so, where, and for how much?
First, let’s understand the product. What are these hot N95 masks all about?
N95 masks are a kind of personal protective equipment (PPE). To be certified N95, the attached filters block up to 95% of non-oily airborne particulates up to 0.3 microns in diameter. The mask must also fit snugly around the face, sometimes with light suction, to prevent particles from making an end-run around the mask.
In the US, N95 masks must be certified as such by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) under guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
While N95 masks are hard to find, you may discover that it is much easier to find KN95 masks. Are these an acceptable substitute? What is the difference?
The main difference is that KN95 masks are certified in China. The respective stats are quite similar—for example, both masks are rated to block 95% of the applicable particulates. However, the Chinese KN95 mask is required to undergo fit tests, while the US-certified N95 mask has more stringent criteria for breathability.
So Where Can I Buy N95 or KN95 PPE Masks Online?
Highly rated company Honest PPE Supply has a robust stock of N95 and KN95 masks available for online order and fast shipping to US addresses. Their verified customer 5 star ratings are amongst the highest we’ve seen and they seem to be the most reliable.
Their stock includes:
- FDA-registered KN95 certified masks for $2.95 per unit, minimum order of 10 units.
- FDA-registered N95 certified masks for $4.95 per unit, minimum order of 10 units.
The family-owned company also sells face shields and 3-ply paper masks, among other supplies currently protecting medical responders. Orders ship within 24-48 hours.