What kind of mask should I wear?

The highly transmissible omicron variant is spreading and a lot of people are asking which mask is best.

  • By Rachel Treisman/NPR

The highly transmissible omicron variant has brought with it a lot of disruptions and questions — and for many people, that includes confusion about which masks to wear and where to buy them.

Experts say it’s time to trade in your cloth face coverings for high-quality filtration masks, like N95s, KN95s and KF94s.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said yesterday that the agency will be updating its guidance, and reiterated that any mask is better than no mask. Officials in cities like New York and Los Angeles have already told residents it’s time to level up.

NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy has spent most of the pandemic researching masks and trying them out on her own family. She told Morning Edition which ones she recommends, and how to make sure you’re getting the real deal. Listen to that here.

N95 masks

N95 masks and similar respirators offer way more protection than cloth masks, Godoy says, noting that they get their name because they’re designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles when worn correctly. They’re also made with material that has an electrostatic charge to trap incoming particles, plus they have a snug fit, which offers better protection.

And they come in a variety of shapes — from cups to middle folds to duck bills — so you can test out which model feels most comfortable. And all N95s are made to U.S. government standards and rigorously tested, so they’re a reliable choice no matter which shape you pick.

KN95 and KF94 masks

These are pretty good options, too — they both use ear loops, which adds comfort, but don’t seal quite as tightly to your face.

Since N95s are not regulated for kids, these are the best options for your little ones. For more help navigating those, Godoy points to Aaron Collins — aka “Mask Nerd” — who offers rankings and recommendations on his Twitter page.

KF94s are made to a Korean standard and regulated by the South Korean government. KN95s are made to a Chinese standard, but the Chinese government doesn’t strictly regulate them. There are definitely some good KN95s out there, Godoy says, but there are also a lot of low-quality and fake ones on the market.

Don’t get scammed online

A word of advice for those of you who may be opening a new tab to shop for better masks: Make sure you’re buying from a tested source, as experts told Godoy.

For instance, Project N95 sells masks from vetted distributors, and you can visit stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s to survey their shelves. Korean importers like Be Healthy USA and Kollecte USA are a good bet for KF94s.

And if you’re browsing on Amazon, experts advise going to the manufacturers’ shop — like the 3M store or the Kimberly-Clark store — rather than third-party venders.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

Ben Roethlisberger is hoping for Jerome Bettis-style send-off