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How to Buy a Real N95 Mask Online

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A year into the coronavirus pandemic, buying a heavy-duty medical mask online remains downright maddening.

The most coveted mask to keep safe against Covid-19 has been the N95, the gold standard for pandemic protection because of its tight fit and 95 percent efficiency in filtering airborne particles. Then there’s the KN95 from China, a mask for medical workers that offers high filtration and is somewhat looser fitting.

But these masks have been far from easy to buy on the internet. When the pandemic hit last year, they immediately became scarce as health care workers and governments rushed to obtain them. The demand was so intense that a gray market sprang up for them.

Yet even after supplies have improved, it is often not easy to find authentic N95s and KN95s online. That’s because there are few brand-name makers, so it can be hard to know which of the dozens of manufacturers are reliable. And counterfeiters continue to flood the market, even on trusted sites like Amazon.

The result is frequently frustration when wearing a heavy-duty mask is more important than ever. Last week, federal health officials emphasized the need for all of us to have tightfitting covers because of new fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

“People don’t know what’s legit, and they don’t know which suppliers are legit,” said Anne Miller, an executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people buy protective coronavirus equipment. “We’ve had that issue since the very beginning of the pandemic.”

I recently spent hours comparing masks online and almost bought a pack of counterfeits on Amazon. Thankfully, I avoided falling into the trap and eventually found legitimate, high-quality covers from a trustworthy online retailer.

Along the way, I learned plenty about spot fraudulent mask listings and how to sidestep fake reviews. So here’s how to home in on authentic medical-grade masks that will keep you and your loved ones safe.

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