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Recent evidence suggesting most Covis-19 transmission happens from pre-symptomatic individuals. This makes masks critical.

But how do you find a good mask?

US Exported Good Masks to China

In January and February US manufacturers exported millions of face masks and other vital medical supplies to China, according to the Washington Post.

It's safe to assume those were good masks.

F.D.A. Approves KN95 Masks From China

On April 3, the New York Times reported F.D.A. to Allow Use of KN95 Masks Approved by China.

The masks are almost identical in performance to the N95 masks that hospitals and other institutions are struggling to find.

The F.D.A. said KN95 masks were eligible for authorization if they met certain criteria, including documentation that they were authentic.

Almost Identical?

Let's investigate the meaning of "almost" and "authentic".

Low-Quality Masks Infiltrate U.S. Coronavirus Supply

On may 3, the Wall Street Journal reported Low-Quality Masks Infiltrate U.S. Coronavirus Supply.

Key Findings

  • Tests by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that about 60% of 67 different types of imported masks tested allowed in more tiny particles in at least one sample than U.S. standards normally permit.
  • One mask that Niosh tested, sold in packaging bearing unauthorized Food and Drug Administration logos, filtered out as little as 35% of particles. Another, marked KN95, a Chinese standard similar to N95, had one sample test below 15%, far short of the 95% it advertised.
  • Officials in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Missouri said they found many imported masks failed quality tests.
  • Gregory Rutledge, an MIT professor, said his lab tested more than 40 masks in the Massachusetts stockpile that claimed to be made to China’s KN95 standard. He found only a third performed comparably to certified N95s.

Ear Loops

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Lawrence General Hospital in Massachusetts said it had distributed part of a batch of Chinese-made masks using ear loops from its stock, before seeing a Niosh alert that the masks weren’t up to the American N95 standard their label suggested.

Miscalculation at Every Level Left U.S. Unequipped to Fight Coronavirus

Please consider Miscalculation at Every Level Left U.S. Unequipped to Fight Coronavirus

The U.S. government focused more on preparing for terrorism than for a pandemic. Despite the severe 2009 flu, the government lacked a permanent budget to buy protective medical gear for its Strategic National Stockpile of supplies for health emergencies.

The Trump administration further weakened the safety net as it rejiggered the Health and Human Services Department’s main emergency-preparedness agency, prioritized other threats over pandemics, cut out groups such as one that focused on protective gear and removed a small planned budget to buy respirator masks for the national stockpile, according to former officials.

The N95 story reveals failures of readiness at every level.

Three-Point Synopsis 

  1. Trump did not take the pandemic threat seriously.
  2. At the outset of the crisis, the US exported millions of good masks to China.
  3. Then in a panic need for masks, the FDA lowered quality standards and imported millions of bad masks from China.

That is how "almost identical" (except they don't work) masks get into widespread use in US hospitals.

Where Do You Find Them?

Q: Where do you find the good ones? 

A: Sorry, I don't know

If they attach on the ears, they are not approved. If they are from China, they are also suspect.

Amazon Search

An Amazon search of N95 masks bring up many items that are: "Currently unavailable.  We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock. .... Prioritized for organizations on the frontlines responding to COVID-19."

There are numerous masks that attach behind the ears but those "almost identical" are not N95. 

Finder.Com has a supplier, Canopus, labeling masks with ear loops as N95. Beware.