How To Get An N95 Mask And Use It Correctly

A cloth mask may be better than no mask. Maybe it helps with ‘source control’ (preventing your respiratory droplets from reaching others (‘my mask protects you, and your mask protects me’) but it isn’t going to keep you from catching Covid-19.

A surgical mask is better, but that’s a wide category and there are plenty of cheap ones that are no better than a cloth mask. If you’re looking for some protection in this category you want a level 3 procedure mask.

But if you travel, you find yourself in airports and on jet bridges, if you’re in indoor congregant settings with groups of other people then you want to use an N95 mask. These filter out at least 95% of particulates. They were tough to get early in the pandemic but that’s no longer the case.

Dr. Anthony Fauci lied and told people not to wear masks early in the pandemic. So did the Surgeon General. This was meant to be a ‘noble lie’ to keep people from buying ‘the good masks’ and competing for limited supplies with government and health care. That undermined trust in authorities telling people to use masks.

At the start of the pandemic public health guidance was that masking would lead people to touch their face more. It was pointed out that in hospital settings workers get N95 masks fitted. They learn to put them on and take them off correctly, so they’re protective for healthcare workers but not for the general public. I always thought the better answer was to educate people about proper mask wearing, not tell them they won’t know how to use them correctly.

I’ve written in the past about buying good masks. I’ve been recommending Accumed for N95 masks. And I’ve been suggesting following proper procedures for wearing them. There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube.

Surgical N95s have been harder to get, especially from 3M, but you can buy N95s yourself and if you’re traveling I think you should. Buying ‘whatever’s available’ is good, but finding a mask that really fits your face well is better.

Aiden Health has an N95 ‘Fit Kit’ which contains 10 different styles of N95 masks for $49 so you can pick the one that both fits best and that you find most comfortable to wear. Here’s what it includes:

And here’s what’s inside the package:

Disclosure, they sent me a fit kit and I made a donation to charity for more than the retail price. They offer affiliate credit, I am not using affiliate links and I haven’t signed up for their program. This is your health and I think it’s important enough that I’d rather not deal with comments from anti-mask folks arguing that I have a conflict of interest in suggesting it.

What I like about Aiden Health is their variety, price, and clarity on what you’re buying. They have level 3 procedure masks for 50 cents apiece, KN95 masks for $2.20, and N95s from $3.32 each. They say they have over 100,000 N95 masks available. They also have plenty of gowns, gloves, sanitizer, wipes, and face shields. They spun up a non-profit (Operation Masks) back in March to provide PPE to health care workers, when government failed.

If you’re going to travel, wear a good mask that fits and learn how to use it. N95 masks are available, and increasingly so, I do not believe you should be wearing a cloth mask in the airport or in other crowded settings.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Have to admit, this is a good post—hope folks act on your suggestions. Appreciate your frank, and accurate, analysis. You also offer a better source for supply than I was previously aware of (and thanks for sharing your affiliate link policy for the product).

  2. I have been wearing a mask all day since I went back to work in April. Sometimes 12 hours a day. I was in quarantine from March 15 to April 6th, as I was in Spain. Some how, in my customer contact job, I have avoided the virus. I really want to say it was the mask wearing, but social distancing and constant hand cleaning was probably helpful as well.

    I really think if we all had worn masks, social distanced, had practiced good hand hygiene, many less could have died. I really take my cue from the Japanese. They wear masks all the time. They have had many fewer deaths.

    This is a good post. Even with the vaccines, we could be wearing masks for most of next year.

  3. 3m N95s with valves are widely available. Just put a regular cloth or surgical mask on top of it, and you should be good to go. I have valved and non valved N95s which I use for trips to the grocery store.

    Health officials are still lying when they say that cloth masks / surgical masks will protect you. They won’t. All they do is block some of the droplets from traveling farther. They do almost nothing to prevent infection from fine aerosols can stay in the air for 20 minutes or more. You need at least an N95 to protect you from those.

  4. Doctor here: My hunch is that in a casual setting, a person wearing an N95 is not going to be significantly more protected than a person next to him wearing a simple surgical mask. But, if you want to talk about perfectly fitted masks, it’s more than just anatomically “fitting” it to your face:

    What you’re missing is the actual fit test (blowing out air, sucking air in). If air seeps in through the sides of the mask, it becomes useless. If you put on glasses (or sunglasses) with the mask and they fog up while you’ve got the mask on, you’ve more than likely got a leak through the sides. A properly fitted mask will slightly puff up in front of you when you forcefully breathe out, and have a slight vacuum from the center if you “forcefully” breathe in. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s likely that the air is bypassing the mask and going the past of least resistance – the sides of the mask. N95’s are designed with electrostatic charge to mold to the sides of the face to prevent air from seeping through the sides.

    This is more relevant to me treating confirmed positive COVID patients right in front of me, so the average person may not need to be as fastidious…

    For the record, I use Halyard N95 masks, have seen hundreds of COVID patients and haven’t been infected. The Halyard shape, construction, and fit are pretty universal. May be hard to obtain though…

  5. Fauci did not lie. It was the news media that did not always fully air or allow a detailed explanation, which was to save masks for doctors and nurses.

    N95 masks are still in shortage but surgical masks are not. Wear one of those level 2 or 3.

    Better yet, stay home. That’s better than a mask unless you invite guests

  6. K – not a doctor, but work in a hospital. You’re absolutely correct on the fit-testing process. That’s what we do in our facility.

    VFTW has a mixed track record of masking positions and safety “advice”, and I do find this article, even if slightly technically incorrect, to be one of the best posts I’ve seen. If you don’t believe me, please see comments on other threads about masks. Half of the commenters seem like they browsed here right after visiting Q or 4chan.

  7. @derek,

    Stay home if you want but I prefer to live my life. Have traveled since June (mostly driving and take steps to distance) and I plan to continue. I have 3 casino trips planned in January (2 with flights including Las Vegas). I have been to casinos over a dozen times since June and find they typically take very good steps to minimize risk. Also, I go by myself and ensure I distance to the extent possible.

    Travel is a personal decision and if you elect not to travel that is fine. For me however, I will continue to go when and where I want within reason and ensure I take appropriate steps to minimize my risk. I realize I would have less risk if I didn’t travel, didn’t go to restaurants and minimized my shopping or other discretionary travel but that is not what I want to do. To me a life is meant to be lived and I intend to continue doing that.

  8. @K – I agree that fitting the mask matters for best protection because you don’t want gaps where unfiltered air gets through, I point out in the post “in hospital settings workers get N95 masks fitted” I also point out that “[t]hey learn to put them on and take them off correctly.”

  9. Wow. Dr. Fauci didn’t lie when he initially advised against everyone wearing masks—the evidence wasn’t strong yet for mask preventing Covid19 transmission AND governments were desperate to safeguard mask supplies for frontline healthcare workers. After evidence emerged that everyone wearing multi-layer cloth and surgical masks could significantly reduce viral transmission, Fauci ( and the entire public health world) revised the advice.

    Science learns based on evidence. It isn’t lying.

    Shame on you for propagating a rightwing lie.

  10. @AA Flyer I believe you are NOT taking steps to minimize your risk. You are making multiple trips to casinos. Your type of behavior is a significant cause of Coid-19 in America. You may or may not spread it but, as a population, some people among that population doing the same things are you are. So that behavior is causing homicide. (not murder, but homicide).

    All this social distancing is not the answer. Ever smell a fart from someone more than 6 feet away? If you can smell the fart, the virus can also float into your nose just like farts can.

  11. @K – is slightly incorrect regarding N95 fitting: ” If you put on glasses (or sunglasses) with the mask and they fog up while you’ve got the mask on, you’ve more than likely got a leak through the sides.” This is not correct – people can still have fogged glasses when well-fit.

    If everyone wore filtered and fitted masks – transmission would decrease greatly especially even among the normal average population.

  12. There are a lot of fake N95 and KN95 masks being sold. I’ve seen counterfeit 3M N95 masks with and without valves. You can avoid buying useless counterfeit masks by not buying from Ebay and Amazon. If you are buying from an online store, use whois lookup for the domain name. For example, the domain aiden.health mentioned in this article was created on 5/29/2020. I would avoid buying masks from any company which created their website in 2020. They are more than likely selling counterfeit masks. Only major distributors/sellers have direct access for 3M, Honeywell, etc to N95 masks. All these companies will have websites going back one or 2 decades. Also N95 masks never have ear loops.

  13. Here is a link to the 12-minute video from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding respirator fit testing requirements for any work required and regulated in the U.S. to use a tight-fitting respirator.
    https://www.osha.gov/video/respiratory_protection/fittesting.html

    Here is a link to the written transcript of this video: https://www.osha.gov/video/respiratory_protection/fittesting_transcript.html

    If you have any questions about the video or qualitative/quantitative fit testing before using an N95 respirator, ask here.

  14. Real n-95 masks are still in very short supply.
    To properly get and size an N95 mask you need to be fit tested for a particular model and size. Otherwise there is no guarantee that it works as it is supposed to. Also they are only to be used until they get wet or dirty. They cannot be cleaned except by very specific methods.
    Finally they do NOT have ear loops. I have never seen one with ear loops that passes a fit test (and I have given many). FIt testing is not an easy process and can not be properly done with a cheap home kit and you can not do it yourself. A proper fit testing kit costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. My office has 2.

  15. Are these masks that VFTW is touting made in China like all of the blue surgical masks that are sold by most retailers, ebay, Amazon, etc?

    I trust masks made in China about as much as vaccines made there.

  16. @Juan discard following likely exposure to covid-19. i’d prefer not to wear more than 4 hours but the CDC says under certain conditions 8 hours of use is acceptable. The masks will lose their fit. change masks regularly!

  17. One factor needing consideration is the oxygen concentration at altitude is less than 19.5%.
    As indicated in the 3M guide you should use a self contained breathing apparatus with supplied air when oxygen concentration is below this level.
    https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/639110O/3m-respirator-selection-guide.pdf

    While this seems completely impractical because you’re below 19.5% at 2000 feet MSL, I suppose it’s the reason nurses and doctors only wear portable air-purifying respirators at the hospital near my house when dealing with covid patients.

    I’d also assume your level of fitness and degree of movement are factors.
    I can wear a fitted 3m N100 respirator while sitting on a plane or shopping . I cover the exhaust with the “blue mask of death” if requested.
    I have viewed the fit tests and realize I’m not getting the real test, but the seal is tight, no air escapes, the mask expands and contracts slightly. and it’s as close as I’ll get to keeping the virus out. 3m 8233 , around $12 and readily available .
    https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/all-3m-products/~/3M-Particulate-Respirator-8233-N100-20-ea-Case/?N=5002385+3294776421&rt=rud

  18. “Fauci did not lie. It was the news media that did not always fully air or allow a detailed explanation, which was to save masks for doctors and nurses”

    I guess one’s definition of, “lie,” is what’s at odds, here. When Fauci told the public that they didn’t need masks to remain safe, or they weren’t really necessary or effective (take your pick), when he actually knew or believed otherwise, then I take that as a lie. He even told the president that masks weren’t really necessary, so Trump didn’t wear one. Maybe if Fauci had said that they were necessary then he would have, I don’t know (not a Trump fan, just pointing out the obvious that as Late as April – some source say May – Fauci was still telling President Trump that masks weren’t necessary and this was detailed in the White House’s daily press conferences).

    So yeah, I’d call that a lie. At best, it was a serious conscious omission, and one that might have resulted in people becoming ill. Many of the anti-maskers that I encounter base their resistance to wearing masks specifically on Fauci’s own public statements. One guy whom I know flat out says that if the experts like Fauci say masks aren’t necessary, then why should he wear one? Again, I’m not a part of that crowd, jut passing what I anecdotally have experienced from those around me.

    I honestly do worry that many Americans may have fallen ill from Covid and Heaven forbid died from it due to following Fauci’s claims that masks weren’t necessary for the general population. It would be the height of cruel irony if the man most closely identified with fighting Covid actually got Americans killed by telling them to not better prepare for it.

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