Coronavirus

How can you tell if your N95 or KN95 mask is fake? Pay attention to these signs

April Simmons-Smith, RN, starts the routine of putting on personal protective equipment that includes a N95 respirator face mask on April 16, 2020 before entering a patient’s room at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
April Simmons-Smith, RN, starts the routine of putting on personal protective equipment that includes a N95 respirator face mask on April 16, 2020 before entering a patient’s room at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. dmartin@islandpacket.com

Highly protective face masks such as N95s and KN95s are being encouraged by health experts as the omicron variant of the coronavirus runs rampant, but many are actually fakes.

For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 60% of the the Chinese made KN95 masks are counterfeit and do not meet requirements from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH).

There are many tell-tale signs N95s and KN95s are fake, thus making them not recommended to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Here’s what to know:

Check the label

Approved N95 masks will either have a label on the packaging or respirator with the NIOSH letters, the CDC said. Each mask also has its own approval number you can verify on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List website.

If your N95 is fake, it may not have any NIOSH markings or approval number on the respirator. If there are decorative add-ons, such as sequins, that’s another sign it’s fake.

Another sign the N95 is a counterfeit — it says it’s made for children.

“Only adult-size masks undergo the NIOSH approval process and can be designated as N95s,” The New York Times reported. “So anything labeled as a ‘Kids N95’ is, by definition, a phony.”

Take a look at the mask design

All approved N95 respirators have straps that go around the back of your head, the CDC said. This means any so-called N95s that have ear loops are in fact, counterfeits.

“They’re not designed for comfort,” Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, told HealthDay. “They’re designed for performance.”

What about KN95 masks?

NIOSH does not evaluate KN95 masks, but that does not mean they are not recommended. The CDC said KN95s are “the most widely available respirators that meet an international standard.”

If packaging on a KN95 mask says it is CDC or NIOSH certified, it is a counterfeit.

“A substantial number of face masks, claiming to be of KN95 standards, provide an inadequate level of protection and are likely to be poor quality products accompanied by fake or fraudulent paperwork,” the Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom said.

KN95 masks must be stamped with GB2626-2019, according to The New York Times. This code means they were constructed according to China’s respirator standards.

But unlike N95 masks, KN95s are made for children. You can find some to buy on the ProjectN95 website.

Other tips to follow

The CDC encourages people to check transaction history and reviews of the seller, if possible.

“If a listing claims to be ‘legitimate’ and ‘genuine’, it likely is not,” according to the CDC.

Bad grammar and typos on the website are also a sign the company is selling fake masks, as well as if the masks have had big swings in their prices.

Sellers on marketplaces are also required to list their contact information. And if they have their contact information, make sure it’s an email address connected to a website and not a free email account, the CDC said.

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This story was originally published January 13, 2022 3:01 PM.

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