N95 masks are in high demand — this company makes it easy to buy them and help healthcare workers too

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  • The CDC doesn't recommend medical-grade masks for the general public because they're in high demand for healthcare workers. 
  • But, N95 Mask Co. has a production model that helps keep them in stock for both the healthcare industry and the general public. 
  • When I ordered three different masks from the company, the process was simple and the shipping was extremely fast.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Aimee Desrosiers, PA-C, MS, MPH, a practicing infectious diseases physician assistant in Washington, DC.

The United States — along with many other countries of the world — has been battling a pandemic since early 2020, and the battle continues as we head into 2021. As we wait for vaccination rates to increase and infection rates to decrease, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public remain two of the most important ways to reduce the spread of the virus.

By now we all know that we should be wearing a mask, but let's talk about the specific types of masks and why they're recommended. The CDC recommends that everyone wears a cloth face mask when in public, and in its guidance, also advises against wearing medical-grade equipment like N95 respirators.

Here's why the CDC doesn't want you to wear N95 masks

Although this guidance might seem counterintuitive, there's a reason behind it. Cloth face masks can provide a barrier to respiratory droplets that travel in the air when you talk or sneeze, and are scientifically proven to reduce the chance of transmission from larger particles. N95 respirators, on the other hand, are medical-grade masks that filter 95% of small (.3 micron) particles and are far more effective. Average people are recommended against wearing them in order to save them for healthcare professionals that knowingly or unknowingly come in contact with positive cases on a daily basis at work.

But now, a company called N95 Mask Co. is making N95 respirators available to the public, and rather than taking away from supplies that healthcare workers desperately need, its genius production model actually helps keep them in stock.

How N95 Mask Co. allows average consumers to buy masks

Just about any textile company can produce cloth face masks, but N95 masks are made to meet exact specifications and regulations. That means they can't be made by your favorite T-shirt or jeans company using excess materials. The demand needs to be met by factories that are approved to produce them in accordance with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), FDA, and CDC guidelines.

However, the factories that are approved to produce them can't just crank up production on a whim and slow it back down when demand diminishes. In order to consistently produce masks in high volume, companies like N95 Mask Co. have to guarantee that a certain amount of items get shipped out of factories on a daily basis — whether they're needed to fulfill existing orders or not. If products don't get shipped out, factors like unpaid production costs and limited inventory space prevent factories from producing more.

Typically, factories produce smaller amounts to fulfill bulk orders placed by hospitals (which comes with a lead time for production), but with a high-volume steady production method, N95 Mask Co. can keep them readily available for the healthcare industry and sell excess stock to average consumers.

Instead of trying to get your second cousin's wife's sister who happens to be a nurse to snag you some masks from the supply room, which takes them away from the people that need them the most, you can get them in good conscience for fair prices at N95 Mask Co. And when medical institutes run low on supplies, they won't have a long wait time before they're replenished.

What's the difference between N95 and KN95 masks?

The most notable difference is that N95s are the US Standard and KN95s are the Chinese Standard.

While N95 and KN95 masks are both designed to filter 95% of small (.3 micron) particles, N95s are NIOSH approved. On the other hand, KN95s are not NIOSH approved as they are regulated by the Chinese government. The FDA granted emergency use authorization for some KN95 masks as an alternative when N95s were not available, only if they met certain criteria. There is a considerable problem with counterfeit KN95s, so it is important to ensure they are on the list of FDA authorized KN95 masks. The biggest giveaway that a mask advertised as a KN95 is counterfeit is if it has a breathing valve.

When comparing N95s and KN95s, they perform very similarly but there are some minor differences in their standards such as for air leakage and breathability. These differences are minor and should not impact the average person who is wearing them in public places.

Another thing to note is that N95s are more expensive than KN95s since the latter can't be worn by healthcare professionals in the US as medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE).

What it's like to order from N95 Mask Co.

Shopping on N95 Mask Co. is easy. The brand has two styles of N95s, plus KN95s, surgical masks, and cloth face masks. Regardless of which style you choose, you can buy in small packages or in bulk. For the purpose of this review, I ordered a few of the Respokare NIOSH N95s, the NIOSH Cup Style N95s, and the KN95s. A day after I placed my order, it already arrived at my door which was a pleasant surprise. Granted, it shipped one state over from New York to New Jersey, but the super-fast shipping proves that the company's production model works. There was no long lead time to fulfill my order.

Shop all masks and coronavirus-related supplies on N95 Mask Co. now.

The Respokare NIOSH N95

If you're not keen on the head and neck straps found on the two N95 models or you're on a tighter budget, the KN95 Mask might be the best choice for you. It features elastic ear straps and an adjustable nose bridge.

You can get a 20-pack of KN95s for $59.99, which comes out to about $3 each. Buying in bigger bulk quantities brings the price per unit down even more.

How many times can I wear an N95 or KN95 before discarding it?

According to the CDC, it is likely safe for healthcare workers to wear N95s up to five times if the manufacturer hasn't provided a specific recommendation. As an average person though, it's safe to assume that your daily interactions are much lower risk than most healthcare workers. You shouldn't feel like you have to throw away your N95 after a few low-risk actions like running to the lobby of your building to check the mail, opening your front door to grab a food delivery, or going into a mostly-empty grocery store.

With that said, you should definitely discard your mask if it becomes visibly soiled, if the head straps and nose bridge are worn out or broken and no longer provide a secure fit, or if you've worn it while in direct contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. You'll also want to wash your hands thoroughly before taking your mask off and storing it separate from other masks.

If you're concerned about preserving your N95s or KN95s, I would recommend saving them for higher-risk situations like going to a doctor's appointment in a hospital, flying on planes, or taking public transportation.

The bottom line

Although I've worn each style of the masks above, my personal thoughts should have no bearing on which style(s) you decide to buy.

I obviously can't speak to their effectiveness with more authority than the NIOSH, FDA, and CDC, but they do seem to be as good of quality as other N95 masks I've worn. What I can speak to is how simple it was to shop and how fast the items arrived. There's nothing worse than ordering something you really need and having to wait weeks or months for it to be delivered, but with N95 Mask Co., you can expect your items in a timely manner. 

I reached out to several of the hospitals that have purchased masks from N95MaskCo. for comments about their experiences but did not hear back in time for publishing. I will update this story if and when I get responses.

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