Given the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, many health experts are advising a mask “upgrade”. Even the bests masks won’t make you bulletproof against COVID-19, but they can slash the chances that you get COVID-19, or spread it to others. This article provides a practical guide to choosing and buying masks for yourself and your kids.
Levels of Protection
The level of protection that a mask (or respirator) provides depends on both the material (filtration) and the fit.
Best Protection: The best masks (also known as respirators) can filter out almost all worrisome tiny particles and are designed to fit snugly. This category includes several options with different names and standards: N95, KN95, KF94 (Korea), FFP2 (Europe), CAN95/CAN99 (Canada), and more.
Fun Fact:The number typically tells you how much the respirator/mask filters out in the range that matters most -eg. N95 filters 95% of particles in the critical tiny size range.
Moderate Protection: Disposable medical / surgical masks offer moderate protection, when certified and well-fitted. Within this category, protection ranges from ATSM level 1 to level 3. While the best level 3 masks can filter comparably to N95 masks, the fit is rarely as snug, so overall effectiveness is not as high. Uncertified disposable masks look very similar to the certified ones but offer unreliable protection.
Less Protection: Cloth masks offer the least protection, and are not held to any regulatory standards. In general, more layers offer better protection.
Note: A comfortable, snug fit is essential. You’re better off with a well-fitted mask of a lower level than an N95 with big gaps in the fit, or a mask too uncomfortable to wear consistently.
Beware of fake masks and respirators! A few tips:
Buy masks from reputable sources (e.g manufacturers).
When shopping for medical/surgical masks, look for the ATSM level (1-3) on the box.
When shopping for KN95 or similar respirators, the manufacturer should hold a ‘NIOSH Certificate’
Where to Buy (in Canada)
These websites sell made-in-Canada N95 calibre respirators, and also carry ATSM certified level 1-3 masks. Supply is limited for many products so you may need to check a few sites.
- CanadaMasq (Min order $100)
Local Tip: Here in Vancouver, BC, London Drugs often carries Vitacore respirators and Level 1-3 surgical /medical masks. Check back often!